GILBERT, Ariz. (3TV/CBS 5) - After Gilbert Public Schools notified 150 teachers they would be laid off, the district’s governing board answered questions about why and how the staff reduction was decided. Teachers and parents packed the room (to the extent social distancing allowed) on Tuesday, to listen, and the meeting was also livestreamed for those at home.

Principals notified teachers of their termination on March 26. In an email sent to staff, district officials said, "This afternoon, we made the very difficult decision to implement a necessary reduction in force for the 2021/22 school year as a result of loss of student enrollment."

"I am personally experiencing a wide range of emotions from sadness, to shock, to disbelief. I'm hurt and sad that we're here," Gilbert Education Association President Amber Franco said in a Facebook video.

At Tuesday's meeting, the district first went over enrollment and budget numbers, explaining that GPS enrollment is down by about 2,000 kids – comparable to what some other East Valley districts are facing. That amounts to a loss of about $26 million in dedicated funding. The district's Office of Talent Management explained how they selected the teachers whom the district laid off.

"We understand that this was extremely difficult. We understand that it may have felt personal at the time, but it was what was needed so that the message was consistent to all employees affected," Assistant Superintendent Shawn McIntosh said in regards to a prepared script principals used to notify their teachers of termination. "We're sorry if it seemed cold."

He added that seniority and tenure were not factors in determining layoffs (the State Legislature banned that more than a decade ago). Instead, McIntosh explained how each principal scored the staff at their campus on things like professional growth, creating an environment of respect, leadership roles, and extracurriculars taught. Principals did not know what score would get someone laid off. Neither did the Office of Talent Management, for that matter; that number was only determined after all the scoring data was collected.

Board members mentioned that many people had asked why GPS couldn't have scrimped and saved and tried other cost-cutting measures rather than terminating jobs.

"Any mitigation strategy that we would come up with would again be subject to one time, so we would be delaying the inevitable," the district responded.

Other people asked about Prop 208 funding, but that money won't be available until the fiscal year 2023.

"It's not a fun situation to be in, and it's sad. It's heartbreaking, and I feel for everybody, and I hope that people will enroll and come back, and teachers can have their jobs," Spectrum Elementary School teacher Carrah Dodd said.


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