Being Purged: Teacher layoffs in Anchorage call for education reform
Words / Adam Mackie
Photo / Mindi Vogel
…smoke being raised with the fume of sighs; Being purged…
— William Shakespeare, The Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet, Act I, Scene i
For thus I read the meaning of this end:
There are two ways of spreading light; to be
The candle or the mirror that reflects it.
I let my wick burn out -- there yet remains
To spread an answering surface to the flame
That others kindle.
— Edith Wharton, from “Vesalius in Zante”
The fated email
We have about two weeks left of school, and I’m in the middle of planning Act III of The Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet for freshman in Honors English at West Anchorage High School. Despite hearing an inner Benvolio saying “I pray thee… let’s retire,” I open my email before going to bed. Pausing from my thoughts about the deaths of Mercutio and Tybalt, I click on a message from Anchorage School District (ASD) and begin reading what would be my “star-crossed” fate.
“Anchorage School Board dipped into their savings for the next school year to do everything they could to avoid layoffs,” but since the ASD is not “forward funded” and “with the 5% cut that the Senate has proposed looming out there, the District still has to address the issues of layoffs.”
Why aren’t we forward funded? Many in Alaska desire forward funding, but that’s not quite in the cards for ASD.
I keep reading…
I see 240 full-time equivalent positions could potentially be laid off (later we’ll come to find out that it’s closer to 220). Although I’ve taught in multiple teaching contexts from universities and public schools in Colorado to colleges in New York for more than five years, I begin to worry because I’ve only taught in the ASD since January 4, 2016.
The kindly written District email from the Anchorage Education Association (AEA) president informs me that the ASD has until the last day of school to tell me if I’m laid off or not. This email, sent to teachers as a heads up of what they might expect in the weeks to come, gives due notice. I appreciate being informed about what could happen, but that doesn’t decrease, and even increases, my uneasiness and trepidation.
Surely, I’m on the chopping block to be cut with only a year and a half of service. I’m encouraged to write my legislators, and that’s exactly what I do.
I email Rep. Charisse Millet who responds a week later stating she “absolutely” agrees “our education system needs to be funded as much as possible.”
How much is possible, Millet?
Millet says, “there are places within our education administration that could be more efficient, such as procurement and contractual services, my goal has always been to hold our classroom harmless, even in times of fiscal downturn.” I’m trying to wrap my head around this. “Procurement?” She means teachers. “Contractual services?” She means teachers.
How, if I understand her correctly, can we “hold our classroom harmless,” if we’re losing teachers to care for our classrooms?
A neighbor even tells me that teachers could have seen this coming, leaving me to wonder how he expected his own child to become educated.
And, then, the axe falls…
Slips that aren’t pink and marbles that are blue
The Blue Marbles Project is a reality game designed to show gratitude and appreciation to others, demonstrating how humans are connected on our blue planet. Give a marble to a teacher.
On the evening of May 23, the day before the last day of school, I get another email. This time from my principal at West: "I need to meet with you at 2:45 on Wednesday, May 24th. It is about your employment status for the 2017-18 school year."
After a somewhat crestfallen exchange with my principal, we decide to have our conversation after lunch on the final day of school. My meeting in the principal’s office will follow my last class of ninth graders taking a final on Romeo and Juliet, involving a blue marble and the writing of their own chorus for Act III in the form of an Elizabethan sonnet. I don’t suspect that one student will manage to change the fate of Mercutio or Tybalt on the Venetian streets in their sonnets and fate isn’t likely to change on this day for me.