Budget cuts put Oregon teachers in new and unfamiliar positions

Wendy Owen / The Oregonian /

BEAVERTON — Jessica Keskitalo spent five years teaching world history, economics and government at Westview High School. This fall, she found herself teaching seventh-graders at Cedar Park Middle School how to calculate volume and solve algebraic equations.

It didn’t matter that Keskitalo had never taught math before, much less middle school math. It mattered only that she had a license to teach it.

The Beaverton School District has slashed its budget and cut 344 positions. At least 390 teachers have been transferred to fill holes as layoffs created a massive domino effect across the 51-school district.

The district estimated about 160 teachers were placed in “significantly different positions.”

The teachers union and district have no rules for transfers other than licensure.

A teacher’s competence — years of experience teaching a grade level or subject — do not have to be considered.

Teachers and parents worry that student learning will suffer as expertise is not utilized, or as students cope with a musical chair at the helm of the class. Some classes have been led by three different teachers in the nine weeks since school started.

Among the relocated teachers is a high school language arts instructor moved to elementary English language development, an elementary teacher transferred to middle school science, an elementary music teacher moved to English language development and a German instructor teaching Spanish.

“There is no way you can cut 340 positions and not feel pain,” said Sue Robertson, district human resources director.

Many of the complications in Beaverton are the result of the sheer magnitude of the layoffs and transfers as well as a short timeline, Robertson said.

In some cases, the complicated maneuvering ended up merely swapping teacher positions.

A Deer Park Academy teacher, who worked with seriously ill students at their homes, was laid off and a Southridge High math teacher was moved into her job. The first teacher was recalled from the layoff list and put in the second teacher’s old position at Southridge High.

The district wouldn’t allow them to swap back, because it would cause even more disruption in the classroom and cost the district two days of pay, Robertson said.

Some teachers trained in International Baccalaureate and Advanced Placement were moved to schools without the programs, and those lacking the IB and AP training were moved in, costing the district $30,000 of its $100,000 training budget to get them up to speed.

Others transferees resigned or took unpaid leaves of absence rather than start as the equivalent of a first-year teacher in a grade or subject they’ve never taught.

Not only has Keskitalo, 35, never taught math, her only experience with this grade level was a month in a middle school as a student teacher. But her credentials qualify her to teach any subject in middle school.

“Seventh-grade math has 12 learning targets and they are brand new to me,” she said. “How do you teach something you haven’t been trained to teach?”

Keskitalo said the district gave her a half-day of math training before she stepped into her classrooms, which average 39 students. She has relied on the school’s only other seventh-grade math teacher for help and worries about preparing her students.

“We owe it to them to have teachers in the room who are highly qualified to teach in that subject area,” she said.

Teachers had no choice in their moves and principals were not given a say in who came and went.

While state law and union contracts regulate layoffs and how teachers are recalled from the layoff list — seniority and licensure — there is little guidance on transfers, said Karen Hoffman, president of the Beaverton Education Association.

“Districts have to do everything possible to save jobs,” she said.

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