The Associated Press
MIAMI — Gretchen Marfisi was enjoying her summer, reading a book, when the call came. The high school where she taught art would not be hiring her back in the fall.
Shocked, the art teacher with 27 years of experience spent anxious weeks job searching, only to be rehired by the Broward County School District.
That was last year. This year, Marfisi went through the same routine. She was laid off earlier this summer, then called back.
“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.”
Teachers call it the “yo-yo effect.” School budgets, facing severe reductions in state funding, are cut and layoffs are made, but then some or even all of the teachers are hired back over the summer as officials scramble for money.
President Barack Obama signed into law on Tuesday the bill providing a $26 billion stimulus forf local governments so hundreds of thousands of teachers, police officers, firefighters and other public employees can remain on the job.
State and local governments cut 29,500 education jobs in July, bringing total cuts this year to 61,800. More layoffs are likely as states still face yawning budget gaps. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities estimates that states will have to close deficits totaling $120 billion in fiscal year 2012, which begins next July 1.
The $26 billion measure is less than what was initially supported 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 roller coaster of emotions as money to save thousands of jobs stalled in Congress and unions and administrators sparred over ways to rehire laid-off teachers.
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.
“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 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.
Marfisi canceled her family vacation and put her life on hold before being called back recently. She 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.”
Associated Press writer Dorie Turner in Atlanta contributed to this report.