WEST COVINA — School officials, already under fire for closing four schools, are faced with more controversy as they pursue proposals to lay off teachers and staff members and increase class sizes.
By early next week, about 50 junior high school and high school teachers, psychologists, counselors, nurses and student advisers will receive notices of possible layoffs next September as a result of the school closure plan approved last month.
The school district and the teachers association are already gearing up for what could be a bitter contract dispute over proposals for further staff cuts and an increase in class sizes.
At the same time, a group of parents whose children attend Edgewood High School are demanding an explanation for the administration's recommendation to close Edgewood and retain West Covina High as the district's only high school.
The group, which has strongly protested the school board's adoption of that recommendation, is scheduled to discuss the decision with administrators tonight.
"All the worst is happening now," said Supt. Jane D. Gawronski. "This year is the worst in terms of the decisions being made that will affect this district for some time."
Difficult decisions involving school closures and program cuts became necessary after a deficit in the 1986-87 school year forced the district to borrow $3.3 million from the state. Next year, the district must repay $1.5 million on the loan and cut an additional $2.7 million to balance the budget.
On Feb. 18, the board voted to close Edgewood High, Hollencrest and Willowood junior high schools and Cortez Elementary School. The decision ended a month of emotional debate but, by targeting Edgewood for closure, started a new controversy. The board is still considering closing one of two other elementary schools, California and Wescove.
In accordance with the state Education Code, the 50 secondary school teachers, psychologists, counselors, nurses and advisers will be notified that their jobs may be cut next September. But because of early retirements and staff attrition, the actual number of layoffs will probably be less than 25, according to Bob Read, director of personnel services.
"My prediction will be 25 maximum," he said.
No layoffs will be needed at the elementary level, serving kindergarten through sixth grade, Read said.
Layoffs at the secondary level are needed because of duplication in positions caused by the school closures. In addition, the high schools are over-staffed by up to 16 teachers, Read said.
Of the 325 teachers in the district, 141 teach grades seven through 12. Laying off 25 teachers would reduce the secondary teaching force by one-sixth.
Where applicable, the layoffs will be based on seniority, a system which, under the Education Code, allows older teachers to "bump" newer ones if they are qualified to teach a different class, Read said.
"Let's say the district needs to cut three English teachers," he said. "You're going to take the last three hired."
In that case, a science teacher with seniority who is qualified to teach English can replace an English teacher with less seniority, Read said, but a science teacher who is not qualified to teach English cannot.
In cases where teachers were hired on the same day, lots will be drawn.
"It's the rule of last hired, first fired," Gawronski said. "It's unfortunate because you lose all the newer teachers."
Twenty-four teachers have accepted an early retirement plan approved by the board last month. Read said he hopes that more of the 85 teachers who are 55 or older and qualify to retire early will do so, thereby reducing the number of layoffs.
"When there are staff reductions involved, it always complicates things," he said. "Reducing staff is something that you don't ever want to do."
Thus far, the district has reduced its administrative staff by eight with the early retirement of four principals and four managers, Read said.
Beverly Hine, president of the Teachers Assn. of West Covina, said the layoffs, although painful, are not unexpected. Teachers supported closing some schools even though they realized that some layoffs would be necessary, she said.
"We felt that it wouldn't be that great a pill to swallow," Hine said.
But the teachers and district officials disagree sharply over a proposal to increase class sizes next year as another means of balancing the budget.
Administrators have said they would like to increase class sizes in grades four through 12--now one teacher per 31 pupils--by one or two students. An increase in the primary grades, first through third, is precluded because the district has already reached the 30-1 ratio allowed by state law.
The teacher-student ratio is one of the issues expected to come up in negotiations for a contract to replace the one that expires June 30.
"That will make the negotiating process intense," Gawronski said.