Jobs Bill Brings Hope To Teachers

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ATLANTA – Dave Ebersbach lost his job as a math teacher this summer, and he spends each day hoping that his poverty-stricken school in Ohio will call up and offer him his position back.

He and thousands of other teachers around the country could get their jobs back now that the Senate has approved an emergency stimulus package designed to keep educators and other public employees out of the unemployment line.

“My biggest thing is I want to go back to the school I was at for the students,” said Ebersbach, 43, one of 14 math teachers in the Toledo school district to receive notice a few weeks ago that their jobs were cut. “We’re in a high-poverty school and one thing the students need more than anything else is consistency. And they’re not going to get that.”

The $26 billion measure passed Thursday is less than was initially proposed by Education Secretary Arne Duncan, but will provide $16 billion to help states balance their Medicaid budgets and $10 billion for grants to school districts to forestall layoffs.

Republicans strenuously opposed the measure, denouncing it as yet another federal bailout the government cannot afford and calling it a giveaway to public employee unions.

For educators across the country, it’s been a bewildering summer as money to save thousands of jobs stalled in Congress and unions and administrators sparred over ways to rehire laid-off teachers.

The result has been what is referred to in education circles as the “yo-yo effect.” School budgets, facing severe reductions in state funding, are cut. Layoffs are made. And some or even all of the teachers are hired back over the summer as officials scramble for money.

The money coming from Congress could help fill some of that void. But until districts actually have the money in hand, thousands of teachers must wait in limbo not knowing whether they’ll have jobs when school starts in a few weeks.

Data provided by the U.S. Department of Education on how many jobs the bill is expected to fund reads like the medical chart of a battered patient: 16,500 in California. In Texas, 14,500. More than 9,000 in Florida. Some 161,000 education jobs across the country in all.

“The Senate amendment will go a long way to protecting these jobs and ensuring that America’s educators are working to educate our way to a better economy,” Duncan said. “It’s the right thing to do for America’s students and America’s teachers.”

Throughout the summer, many districts had despaired that Congress would deliver any money, and scrambled to find other ways to bring back the teachers, offering early-retirement incentives and negotiating furlough days.

In Iowa, where 1,500 layoffs were announced earlier this year, the Des Moines district has called back all but 30 of the 173 teachers who were laid off. Twyla Woods, the district’s chief of staff, said they opened an early retirement option and hope to have enough attrition overall to bring back the remaining teachers.

In Santa Cruz, Calif., 82 teachers were laid-off this spring and rehired again this summer, also largely due to a negotiated retirement incentive that 41 workers opted into. Teachers also agreed to take furlough days. The entry level salary in the district is $40,000.

The efforts all saved jobs, but are not considered long-term solutions.

In other districts, no solution was reached at all, leaving hundreds unemployed and hoping for federal money.

Gretchen Marfisi in Florida was laid off in each of the last two summers, only to be rehired by the Broward County School District.

This year she canceled her family vacation and put her life on hold before being called back Thursday.

“Why are they firing all of us?” Marfisi said, her voice ringing with frustration. “Besides giving us all more gray hair and wrinkles, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of logic involved.”

Marfisi is now preparing to unpack all her boxes of teaching materials once again.

“It’s a relief to get a paycheck,” Marfisi said. “It’s just very weird and bizarre emotionally. It just in the process makes you feel like garbage.”

Mike Langyel, president of the Milwaukee Teachers’ Education Association, worries about the long-term effects these series of layoffs will have on the teaching career.

“We don’t need to turn this into a Wal-Mart employment where you’re in for a while and you’re out,” Langyel said.

Teachers say the effect on morale has been overwhelming.

“Somebody said to me, ‘Teacher: I thought that was one field that was recession-proof,'” Ebersbach said. “I’m at a 50-50 shot.”

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