A wave of teacher layoffs set to wash over Georgia politics

Cobb County school teachers protest budget cuts that resulted in 579 faculty layoffs. Hyosub Shin, hshin@ajc.com

Cobb County school teachers protest budget cuts that resulted in 579 faculty layoffs. Hyosub Shin, hshin@ajc.com

A wave that Georgia Republicans have feared for the better part of a year is approaching the shoreline.

This month, thousands of public school teachers across the state were formally notified that their services were no longer required. They will be joined in the unemployment line by thousands of others — school clerks, cafeteria workers and bus drivers.

Roughly 3,500 of the state’s 118,000 public school teachers are at risk, according to one estimate — although the state Department of Education says an exact count won’t be available until this fall.

State Labor Commissioner Michael Thurmond says his department has prepared for 8,000 school-related applications for jobless benefits this summer.

Even more teachers and school workers could lose their jobs next year, as federal stimulus funding is depleted.

Spread across the state’s 180 school systems, it’s hard to judge the economic impact of what education leaders are calling the largest reduction in the teacher work force since the Great Depression.

But politically, teacher unrest could be devastating for Republicans.

At minimum, the layoffs could shatter confidence in suburban counties rich in GOP votes. So far, Cobb County has produced the most applications for unemployment benefits from teachers.

Total school layoffs could rival the combined losses from the closing of a Brown & Williamson tobacco plant in Macon in ‘04, the Ford auto plant in Hapeville in ‘06, plus the General Motors plant in Doraville in ‘08.

“But laying teachers off has a totally different kind of psychology associated with it. It’s hard for the public to wrap their minds around it,” Thurmond said.

The labor commissioner has begun working with the state’s three largest teacher organizations — the Georgia Association of Educators, the Professional Association of Georgia Educators and the Georgia Federation of Teachers — to organize workshops for the new jobless.

No doubt this is part of his job. But the fact that Thurmond is also a Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate is hardly something to overlook.

Last week’s decision by two-term state School Superintendent Kathy Cox to resign — she’s headed for a job at a Washington, D.C., nonprofit — may have made the GOP dilemma worse.

With her departure, Republicans are deprived of a secure platform from which to argue that, while painful, the trimming of $500 million for education from this year’s state budget was fiscally responsible.

The two remaining Republicans in the contest, Bartow County school administrator John Barge and Irwin County administrator Richard Woods, question several of Cox’s curriculum policies — and Gov. Sonny Perdue’s pursuit of federal school reform grants.

The governor will have to appoint a replacement for Cox, whose term extends for another six months. We’re told that the governor might consider someone who’s willing to run as an independent candidate in November.

Republicans have also been unnerved by the last-minute entry of 67-year-old Joe Martin, a former president of the Atlanta school board, into the Democratic contest for school superintendent.

Two other Democrats, Beth Farokhi of Marietta and Brian Westlake of Decatur, have been campaigning since last year but are both newcomers. Martin ran for the post in 1998, losing to GOP incumbent Linda Schrenko.

More important, Martin has been an influential figure in education since the 1980s and represented school systems across the state in a fight — abandoned in 2008 — for increased funding.

Martin’s candidacy “puts a whole new dynamic” in the race, said Jeff Hubbard, president of the Georgia Association of Educators.

The political importance of the race for state school superintendent lies in its role as handmaiden to the governor’s contest.

The irony of the situation is lost on no one. In 2002, Perdue defeated Democratic incumbent Roy Barnes in large part on the issue of job security for teachers.

Eight years later, all seven Democrats running for governor — including Attorney General Thurbert Baker, House Democratic Leader DuBose Porter of Dublin and former National Guard commander David Poythress — are in hot pursuit of the education vote.

But at a Savannah meeting of educators on Thursday, it was Barnes, seeking a return to his old job, who focused most sharply on the issue of funding and teacher layoffs.

To raise the money necessary to end furloughs and layoffs, the former governor said he would ask the Legislature to suspend all tax exemptions passed during Perdue’s eight years in office.

“I’ll close the Governor’s Mansion. I’ll close the Capitol,” Barnes said. “I’ll do whatever it takes.”
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145 comments Add your comment

Echo

May 22nd, 2010
3:30 pm

How about Roy just close his trap. There is no way this teacher votes for him! Roy wouldn’t be able to run again if he won this election, so why would we expect him to hold up his end of the bargain? All of these politicians are pretty much full of it, they are interested in lining their own pockets. Give the control of the schools to the local communities.

WAW

May 22nd, 2010
3:40 pm

“I’ll close the Governor’s Mansion. I’ll close the Capitol, I’ll do whatever it takes.”

He took away the Confederate Flag… he can and will put teachers back in the classroom.

Those teachers still working need to understand that Republicans do not support workers. Never have! Never will! So if you are going to get all excited about Rush and Fox and Tea Parties just make sure you know where the food bank is located.

Joe Martin

May 22nd, 2010
4:04 pm

Thanks for calling attention to this crisis. Some members of the General Asembly like to brag about how tough they have been in cutting the support to our schools, but the terrible reality is that our students are being robbed of their future and the lives of many dedicated people are being trampled. My own estimates are that about 4,000 teaching positions are being eliminated across the state in the upcoming school year and that at least 7,000 more positions are at risk for the following year if the State does not replace the one-time revenues in the budget for FY 2011. We desperately need a State School Superintendent who can and will fight this battle for our students and educators. On a less important subject, I hate to disappoint you, but I’m not a lawyer. I happen to know many good lawyers, including my brothers, but I’m just a regular human being!

HollyJ

May 22nd, 2010
4:13 pm

Brian Westlake is that State School Superintendent that we desperately need!

ExEd

May 22nd, 2010
5:03 pm

Funny how AJC articles always list teacher union GAE before non-union PAGE, even though the latter represents nearly twice the number of teachers and continues to grow. Perhaps because GAE and its parent the NEA have been joined at the hip with the Democratic Party since at least the Jimmy Carter era? And what that’s gotten educators (and the rest of us) is a Congress which now won’t reign in taxes enough to let businesses invest in needed economic growth.

Dr. Ruth says....

May 22nd, 2010
5:10 pm

Less Sex = Less Children = Less teachers needed…therefore, make sex illegal in Georgia

aventist

May 22nd, 2010
5:27 pm

Roy Barnes sold out teachers the last time in office. Now he’s making up big stories to get the teacher vote. Sorry Roy—you lied before and you’re lying now. Go back to the law office and sue someone for more millions.

Clark

May 22nd, 2010
5:33 pm

Mankind system has failed this country was built on a lie therefore the truth will overrule

catlady

May 22nd, 2010
5:38 pm

I will never vote for Barnes. Never, ever will trust him for any reason. Nor will I vote for anyone like Sonny. I know people who will vote for anyone with an R after their name, but that is an almost automatic disqualifier for me. I agree with almost none of their principles; they talk about personal responsibility and family values, but do not show them; they talk about less government but get more intrusive; they talk about lower taxes, but only for some people.

WAW

May 22nd, 2010
5:42 pm

Jim Martin you’ve got my vote. I hope you and Roy can get teachers back in the classroom.

aventist Roy spent the last four years serving the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards after passing legislation as governor to pay those teachers more. The Republicans, who lied to you, took those raises away. And by the way, No Child Left Behind went farther than Roy’s education reforms. Finally, Sonny just tried to apply the “pay for grades” that Roy did not ever propose. You need to figure out who lied and who didn’t.

Intruder

May 22nd, 2010
5:52 pm

My fervent prayer is that the voters remember Barnes’ last stint as Governor. If they do, all the campaign money in the state will not get him re-elected!

Kristy Howard-Clark

May 22nd, 2010
6:31 pm

I hope that they lay off the teachers who are in love with the illegals from Mexico and let them try to find employment while competing against the illegals for jobs. I bet that the teachers who are so protective of the thieves would have a different opinion after they have been unemployed for a few months and that those teachers will be happy to clean houses for a living if it means not starving.

Bobby Anthony

May 22nd, 2010
7:13 pm

This teacher feels that voting for Roy would be like voting fot a Republican. He hurt us badly once, do not give him a chance to do it again. Why are people on this blog afraid to post their name when they give an opinion. My father always told me to tell a man to his face what you believe. I am not a spin doctor but one ordinary teacher in Thomson, Georgia. However I will speak out on election day and vote for David Poythress. I also plan to help get the word out to my fellow teachers over the next two months. I urge all educators to do the same. Stand up in this election and make your voice heard.

Meka

May 22nd, 2010
7:14 pm

Kristy Howard – - – Clark
Allow me to be the ‘One’ to inform you that MEXICAN’S, and NATIVE INDIAN’S . . . ARE LEGAL.

Maybe you missed a few Chapters in your HISTORY BOOKS!

catlady

May 22nd, 2010
7:19 pm

Kristy: teachers have to uphold the law. This means when the law says we are not allowed to inquire about a child’s citizenship, WE CANNOT DO IT, MUCH LESS KEEP THEM OUT OF SCHOOL. If the law says all children walking into the school are to get FAPE, that is what we have to do, no matter what we think of the law. If you want to change things, look to your “boys” Isakson and Chambliss.

But, I admit, it isn’t too hard to love the “illegals”, since (at least in my area), they work hard, behave, and have parents who want them to do well! Most teachers in my school would love to get rid of the little “native USA” jerks who are lazy, poorly behaved, and whose parents think they do no wrong.

One further note; at my school (20% Latino), very few of the kids are here illegally (maybe 20 out of 130). The rest were BORN here, just like YOU. Get to work on changing the interpretation of the birthright law.

Get informed. It will do you a WORLD of good.

Brian D.

May 22nd, 2010
7:42 pm

In case you have not heard, there is a severe recession. Neither the Federal, State or local governments have the funds to retain all of these teachers. The systems that hired more teachers than the State allocation would pay for … obviously made a huge mistake.

King Rat Roy will not be able to fix this anymore than any of the other candidates. Only a economic recovery will solve this problem….and as long as we have Obama and crew in Washington we all will be in trouble.

Obama thinks he turned water into wine and made America shine. NOT.

Billy T.

May 22nd, 2010
7:47 pm

King Roy Barnes is a joke.
He had his chance and he blew it.
I will never vote for that rat again!

Turn the PAGE

May 22nd, 2010
7:57 pm

Some things to know about PAGE, that they’ve said in this very paper.

They said that a proposal that would limit a teacher’s right to run for elected office “had merit”.

A proposal is made to abolish the right of a teacher to run for elected office where they live, vote, and pay taxes and PAGE says that there is “merit” to infringe upon the rights of teachers as citizens in this way?

If PAGE really is gaining membership, after the way they have repeatedly stabbed teachers in the back, maybe it’s time for teachers to look in the mirror and ask themselves if they are co-creators in their own misery.

Solving the problem

May 22nd, 2010
8:12 pm

What would solve this problem is to get rid of the administrative bloat in the schools, which in addition to doing nothing to promote student achievement, hamstrings teachers with loads of bureaucratic paperwork that takes away from the essential task of teaching.

Unfortunately the only educational leader with the courage to call for deep administrative cuts is Dr. John Trotter of the Metro Association of Classroom Educators, who has been regularly demonized by Tucker and the editorial board, even he was years ahead of GAE and PAGE in talking about the rampant cheating in Georgia, cheating for years that the AJC editorial board largely ignored.

Why won’t PAGE and GAE join MACE in calling for deep cuts in administrative bloat? Is it because PAGE and GAE represent some of those very people who are part of the bloat?

LBM

May 22nd, 2010
8:33 pm

Joe Martin….as School Superintendent, where do you expect to get the money to pay for education adequacy and provide for teachers? You suggest TAXPAYERS should be paying millions – billions more. So, you support tax increases? You think money is the answer to Georgia’s educational woes? I would like to hear some fresh ideas on fixing education rather than spending more.

cs

May 22nd, 2010
8:35 pm

Why not keep teachers and ditch the 150 grand a year supers, the 100 grand plus asst supers, 100 grand plus athletic directors, 100 grand plus human resource directors etc etc etc and other unneeded outrageously overpaid administration personnel?

Face time-in the mirror

May 22nd, 2010
8:44 pm

PAGE and GAE won’t support that cs. Because it’s those very members that fill their coffers with cash.

Yet teachers still support GAE and PAGE even as huge amounts of their colleagues are being laid off, while administrators remain comparatively unscathed.

As much as one might feel for teachers, there comes a point in time, regardless of how teachers are being abused in the current teaching environment, that they may need to ask if, by their choice of who they let speak for them, they aren’t being active co-creators in their own misery.

Rural Education

May 22nd, 2010
8:59 pm

We all know about the recession. The problem with education funding was not completely caused by the recession. The “fisherman” has cut funding to education for eight consecutive years. His “austerity” cuts started right after he took office. The agenda of many in the Republican party is to destroy public education, under some insane belief that private enterprise will fill the void. The fallacy of the voucher system is that private schools don’t really want to take them. How many low socioeconomic students will really be accepted in the good private schools.

superDawg

May 22nd, 2010
9:04 pm

Obama wants to dumb down AMERICA! The best thing you can do to stop it is stop working trust in the government and see how long they last.

Sonny did has damage sure but...

May 22nd, 2010
9:05 pm

Sonny did his damage sure, but it was the school systems that continually added administrative bloat to their budgets while this was going on.

And PAGE and GAE who stood silently by, gaining members all the while as it happened.

catlady

May 22nd, 2010
9:07 pm

Too bad taxpayers don’t demand a higher supervisor/teacher ratio. Perhaps similar to pupil/teacher ratios. I work with 140 kids a day in elementary school as a push-in. Let’s say one administrator total per 140 teachers sounds about right. Anyone who does not work directly with students daily qualifies as an administrator. This does not include direct service personnel, like the lunch ladies or janitors, but includes everyone who supervises them.

Yeah, I like it.

Waldo 313

May 22nd, 2010
9:07 pm

3200! Big deal! Are the teachers sacred. They’re part of the biggest union in the state. There are hundreds of thousands of hard working, poorer folks out of work. They aren’t fired, just layed off. They’ll be back on the job in no time. Think of it as a vacation with pay!

Rural Education

May 22nd, 2010
9:11 pm

PAGE and GAE are nothing more than advisory boards, they have no power and is doubtful that anyone actually listens to them. NCLB has caused a tremendous amount of money to be spent on testing (that actually does very little to measure whether real learning has occurred) that could have been spent on the classroom. Those who think that increased class sizes won’t effect education are kidding themselves. The difference between 25 or 26 students and 35 is huge. If Arizona (obviously a very conservative state) is willing to up their sales tax by a penny 5.5 to 6.5 for three years to pay for education then Georgia should as well. Of course as long as the “no taxes at any cost party” is in charge they won’t even let the people vote on it. The reason is simple, the people would vote for it and their whole philosophy would prove to be invalid.

Rural Education

May 22nd, 2010
9:14 pm

Waldo 313, how many times do we have to inform the people of this state that we do not have teacher unions. Turn you dial off Rush and pay attention. Their are no teacher unions in Georgia, we are a right to work state no collective bargaining takes place.

Chris

May 22nd, 2010
9:14 pm

Enter your comments here

Waldo 313 arrested

May 22nd, 2010
9:17 pm

Waldo 313 just got pulled over by the cops for TWI-Talking While Ignorant.

There is no teachers’ union in Georgia, and teachers getting let go are not getting paid.

Tom

May 22nd, 2010
9:21 pm

WAW, your and idiot. What makes teacher jobs more important than any other job in this country! Like every other worker in the US, they are not and should not be exempt from layoffs., If the money is not there to fund the positions, they need to be laid off! I do not want to pay more taxes to fund any extra programs, period! Not even teachers salaries.

browntime

May 22nd, 2010
9:22 pm

Stop blaming Teachers, and start making Parents help their Children at home. Home is the foundation of Education.

Um, Tom

May 22nd, 2010
9:23 pm

“Your and idiot,” Tom? Really?

Matt the Brave

May 22nd, 2010
9:23 pm

We can only hope to God that in a year we aren’t last in education….awwwwww….

Howard

May 22nd, 2010
9:25 pm

Enjoyed the posters held by those teachers…pretty much says it all about educational priorities. As a retired Georgia teacher (2001)…thank God…and living here in Florida, I just have to offer these comments:
# Want to look for real waste…start at most county offices. People would be shocked by the money wasted there. I just want to be one of those consultants that are always being hired school boards for $150,000 to do a one-year study to tell them what they could have discovered if they had just talked to the teachers.
#When Georgia…and down here in Florida…passed those reduced class size amendments and started building new schools like crazy and hiring teachers to staff them, people warned county boards “How will you fund all this building and staff if the economy falls flat?” Everyone policy wonk I read said basically: “Don’t worry…the money will be there.” Well, it’s not anymore.
#As far as teachers voting for Republican…are you kidding?? Teachers belonging to the NEA and GAE (which I quit 10-12 years before I retired to join PAGE) always vote Democrat. The only reason they despised and voted against Roy Barnes was that he messed with their money…The GOP never gets help from teachers.
#These teachers being laid off had better look to Washington and our “Dear Leader” Obama. This is his economy, sir…not the GOP or Bush. And it’s going to get worse with that man in power.

d2

May 22nd, 2010
9:28 pm

If the politicians were truly worried about their eight years of cutting 2,000,000,000 ( while giving the corporations huge tax exemptions (10.4% unemployed), land deals to Perdue, running around on their spouses even with their mother-in-law, tax increase for a new stadium, fund unnecessary testing, have taxpayers pay for a nuclear reactor, and the list goes on—-) they would call a special session to fix it-they will not though–THEY went home bragged to their law offices, bank boards how they fixed Georgia without raising taxes–and how they listen to the public(which was basically a few vocal TEA party people whose motto should be don’t tax my Social Security and Medicare). There are a lot more of people out there who are silent when it comes to voicing their opinions to the right people that are disgusted with these state government. Teachers have relatives who also vote–There will be a change–some of the politician claim they are worried but are not. These ASSemblymen will just sit by and nothing while the state endures these layoffs.

One tired American teacher

May 22nd, 2010
9:28 pm

To those of you who bash PAGE for being unresponsive to the needs of teachers, please get your facts straight. I have been a PAGE member for 25 years and I have never been a part of any coffer-filling adventure. Pull up the website and see how PAGE “puts kids first.”
On a related concern, you who blame Barnes for your woes, please remember the boldface lies the current lameduck excuse of a person made when he ran for office the first time. You voted for that “Johnny come-lately” Republican (like Nathan Deal and others), I didn’t. You got what you deserved. Unfortunately you let him and his Gold Dome minions screw all of us. Time to drive all of them out period!

Rural Education

May 22nd, 2010
9:29 pm

How can you really blame this economy on Obama? I guess the last eight years of deficit spending didn’t really happen. Six of those years when the Republicans had complete control. I don’t recall the deficit being a priority, in fact Dick “Darth Vader” Cheney said deficits don’t even matter. It will take awhile to fix the mess left us by the “shrub”

Chris D'

May 22nd, 2010
9:35 pm

So it wasn’t a political liability for incumbents to preside over one of the lowest ranked state educational systems in the country but it is a political liability to get rid of some of the employees of the one of the lowest ranked educational system in the country? The old, good politicians that care and should get reelected spend more money on education even it makes no difference to the quality of education theory.

Roy What?

“I’ll close the Governor’s Mansion. I’ll close the Capitol,” Barnes said.

So if he is elected he will resign and abolish the state government? I think that might be a platform that he could get a lot of votes with.

Privatize Education

May 22nd, 2010
9:36 pm

There needs to be some reality expressed to teachers. The idea of a uniformed national education policy is disturbing. The teachers unions and antiquated curriculum needs to be washed into the sea. Some of these schools are withut any merit or formidable to send my golden retriever. For years, well, let us say decades, teachers have thumbed their noses on rethinking education. I say- push all of these lethargic teachers out to the pasture and make them accountable such as private entity.
They are clearly producing a poor quality. No time in our nation’s history have some many high school graduates left with such high grades and gold stars to be contradicted by the lowest SAT and ACT scores in a generation. It is a feely feel good focus that is clearly edentate. If these teachers were aoperating on merit – they would all be fired years ago.

browntime

May 22nd, 2010
9:36 pm

PAGE is a waste of Money…they sat and allowed Teachers to be mistreated by POLITICANS…….

browntime

May 22nd, 2010
9:40 pm

Why are the workers at TRS,,,making 400,000and 500,000, and teachers’ are loosing jobs.

browntime

May 22nd, 2010
9:40 pm

400,000 and 500,000 thousands dollars

Rural Education

May 22nd, 2010
9:41 pm

Repeat after me, unions have no presence in the state of Georgia. There has never been one collectively bargained contract in this state. People need to quit blaming unions for all of the countries ills. Secondly, I don’t think it was the teachers who were the problem, it has been the constant reform movements that have taken the ability of teachers to actually teach. The furor over test scores has always been based on a statistical invalid model of comparing test scores from one year to the next. Measuring students from the start of the year to the end would be valid, but comparing one years students to the previous years is not.

Alex

May 22nd, 2010
9:42 pm

On the last day of school, I was called into the principal office and told to turn and my badge and keys. They gave me papers on unemployment. It was like boom bam. I packed up my classroom and it was a wrap. There were about ten other teachers to. We were like ok

GPS Teacher

May 22nd, 2010
9:44 pm

@ Waldo – Teachers do NOT get paid when their contracts are not renewed. Basically, teachers have to be rehired every May for the following school year. If you have not been recontracted, once you have received all paychecks for services already rendered the pay stops. Thus no contract = no pay.

Lee Howell

May 22nd, 2010
9:45 pm

There are definitely potential cuts which would not directly impact the classroom, but the central office administrators in most systems don’t seem inclined to look at those, perhaps because they hit a little too close to home.

I’m surprised that the GOP hasn’t explored the possibilities for reducing government by consolidating our counties to a more reasonable number. They’re all for less government, right?

browntime

May 22nd, 2010
9:46 pm

The right wing/neil boortz plan is to tear apart public education, although his daughter went to public education….Boortz has a Big Mouth……..He really needs to teach for one week in a school, without any assistance……,

Rural Education

May 22nd, 2010
9:46 pm

Consolidation would make too much sense and would eliminate politicians, so you know they would never go for that.