ALLENTOWN, Pa. - The future of 29 teachers' jobs is uncertain if state funds don't come through to help Allentown School District expand its number of all-day kindergarten classes.
Those jobs are in addition to the 74 positions the ASD school board intends to eliminate if it adopts the 2014-15 budget in two weeks.
The 29 jobs are in that new budget, put there because the school district expected to get state funding to pay for them.
Any action by the school board to eliminate those positions would not be initiated until it finds out what it is -- and is not -- getting from the state.
"Reductions are terrible," said Superintendent C. Russell Mayo. "We don't want to add any more."
At its June 26 meeting, the school board will be faced with voting to eliminate 74 teaching positions and four administrative positions if it approves the new budget.
But 74 people will not be losing their jobs, said Mayo, because 14 of the 74 have retired.
"Our association does not agree with the district's proposal to balance next year's budget by cutting any teachers and we do not want to see any professionals furloughed," said Debra Tretter, president of the Allentown Education Association, the teachers union in the district.
Tretter raised her concerns about the future of the additional 29 teaching jobs when she stood before the school board Thursday night.
She said those positions depend on ASD getting a state Ready-to-Learn grant for its 2014-15 budget.
She questioned how the district can retain those 29 positions without a 100 percent assurance that state money will be available.
"The proposed Ready-to-Learn grant is in serious jeopardy," said Tretter.
She explained the union's contract with the district protects teachers from being furloughed after June 7.
"At this point, the district's only legal and ethical option is to fund those positions," declared the union president.
"To do otherwise would be a clear violation of our collective bargaining agreement, which is a legally binding agreement negotiated in good faith."
Tretter said for the district to not fund those positions would be "reckless, irresponsible and disrespectful to your employees."
Mayo said he did not want to speculate about what will happen if ASD doesn't get that Ready-to-Learn funding, at one point commenting the issue is too emotional for speculation.
"On the surface, it would appear we would just have to reduce by 29 positions," said the superintendent.
"But I can assure you as a board that we are not anxious to put our employees -- our teachers or anyone else -- in that kind of position.
We will certainly seek every alternative we possibly can to avoid putting those 29 folks on furlough."
With emotion filling his voice, he added: "It would be extremely difficult from a human point of view – regardless of legality or contracts or any other thing – to come back and notify 29 more people that they have to be furloughed."
The superintendent also stressed: "We cannot cut more than what the board has approved. The board has approved only 74. They didn't approve an additional 29."
Mayo said the district had been optimistic it would get the Ready-to-Learn funding until May, when it learned Pennsylvania faces a financial shortfall of at least $1.2 billion by the end of next year.
He said that state grant money would fund 29 kindergarten through 3rd grade teaching positions that currently exist, plus 11 positions for full-day kindergarten that do not currently exist.
If the Ready-to-Learn money comes through, the district plans to have
37 full-day kindergarten classes beginning in fall, said the superintendent. He said it now has only 14.
Mayo said ASD actually needs 77 full-day kindergarten classes, based on its enrollment, but lacks the classroom space and money to make that happen. "But we could reach close to halfway with 37."
He said even if the Ready-to-Learn grant is not funded, the number of full-day kindergarten classes still will expand, but only to 26.
"We are still optimistic that Ready-to-Learn grant will be funded,"
said Mayo. He said ASD is not that only school district, locally or across the state, "that has included reliance on that Ready-to-Learn grant in our budget."
If that fund does not come through, Mayo and board president Robert Smith said ASD will need $3 million to fund those 29 positions.
Tretter also argued that the school board never took action to eliminate the district's pre-kindergarten plan, although the administration sent her union a letter saying the board had done so on May 22.
She said she was bringing it to the board's attention, because she could not get clarification from the administration.
Mayo indicated that both the school board and the union had been told that five pre-K teaching positions will be "rolling over" into full-day kindergarten.
Board member Ce-Ce Gerlach said she does not remember the school board ever taking action to eliminate pre-kindergarten or increase full-day kindergarten classes. "We never approved anything."
Mayo said those changes were in the proposed final budget, which the board approved on May 22, and that they had been explained to the board before May 22. "When you approve a budget, you are approving what's in the budget," he said.
He added: "There is no advantage to try to do anything the board is not pretty clear on when they vote. It's just not a good way of doing business."
Allentown, PA 18102