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Davenport Union Helping Teachers Grapple With Staffing Cuts

Seth Sawyers via flickr creative commons
The Davenport Community School District has announced dozens of staffing cuts for teachers, secretaries and administrative staff. A local teachers union will help with the transition, which is part of a cost-saving plan.

Seventy-five teachers in the Davenport Community School District are figuring out their next steps after losing their jobs due to budget cuts. Union members are helping the teachers with the transition. 

The district is cutting administrative staff, secretaries and dozens of teachers as part of a cost-saving plan. Under the supervision of the state School Budget Review Committee, the district has identified more than $13.7 million worth of spending reductions, including laying off workers, early retirement agreements, and cuts to discretional funding. 

Now the Davenport Education Association, the local teachers union, is setting up one-on-one sessions and group meetings on March 19 and 21 to help with unemployment benefits and job applications. DEA union representative Toby Paone says teachers have a guaranteed paycheck through August, but he doesn't want them to waste any time looking for new positions.

“They’ve got a little bit of time to make adjustments to their lifestyle, and to start looking for other work. And we will help them through that process so that they land on their feet," he said.

Paone says the union worked with district officials to ensure they were following workers' contracts "to the letter," and prioritizing those with seniority and licensure. He says the cuts were tough to handle, but he's hopeful the approach leads to long-term financial stability. 

“Nobody likes to see these kinds of layoffs and this…what I would call this economic shock to our system," Paone said. "It’s happening here in 2019. We don’t want it to happen in 2020, 2021 or years beyond that.”

Local administrators say their budget issues are due in part to declining enrollment. According to district numbers, Davenport schools have lost 2,298 students between the 1991-1992 school year and the 2017-2018 school year. Officials also point to disparities in how the state allocates per pupil funding, noting they have missed out on $13.2 million due to the unequal funding formula, approximately the same amount they're now cutting from their budgets.

District spokeswoman Dawn Saul said in a written release that the staffing cuts are needed to re-align the schools with the loss of enrollment and lower level of investment.

"The reduction in force begins the process to “right-size” our district staffing and facilities to align with this new reality," Saul wrote. "Our reduction is force is being made across multiple job categories including teachers, non-bargaining, and secretarial staff.  $1.2 million in staff reductions will come from the ASC (central office) staff."

Saul says it was important to let employees know as soon as possible that their contracts would not be renewed, and says there is the possibility that other positions may open up in the district that laid-off workers could apply for. 

"It is important to let employees know as quickly as possible of their contract status for the 2019-2020 school year so that they will not miss potential opportunities for other employment," she wrote. "There may also be some shifting of personnel into open positions at a later date."

Earlier this year, officials from the state Department of Education conducted what's known as a Phase II visit, a focused review of a district's finances and operations for potential mismanagement. State workers interviewed teachers, administrators, staff and parents, and examined financial records and policy documents. The outcome of the Phase II audit could determine whether Davenport retains its accreditation.

Kate Payne was an Iowa City-based Reporter