Michael J. Sorba, Staff Writer
Posted: 02/18/2010 09:14:59 PM PST

COLTON – The Colton Joint Unified School District Board of Education voted 4-3 to issue preliminary layoff notices to 141 teachers Thursday night.

The move paves the way for a worst case scenario in which many teachers could lose their jobs. District officials say, however, it’s unlikely such a scenario will occur.

“I’m disappointed in the board,” said Bernadette Pedroza, a fourth-grade teacher at Ulysses S. Grant Elementary School and elementary executive director for the Association of Colton Educators, the district’s teachers union.

“I think they should have at least tabled the vote and reconsidered it. I think they’re in panic mode. I think the students of the district are going to have to pay the price for them making hasty decisions.”

If teachers are laid off, class sizes are likely to increase. Jerry Almendarez, the district’s assistant superintendent of human resources, says grades kindergarten through third would be the only levels that would maintain their current student to teacher ratio of 20-1. All other grades would increases.

Almendarez said the average class size wouldn’t exceed 34-1 in fourth through sixth grades. The current average ratio is 30-1. In grades seven through 12, the average ratio wouldn’t exceed 36-1. The average is currently 32-1, he said.

The board voted on issuing the notices to comply with a state education code that requires school districts to provide teachers with preliminary notice if they won’t have a job come July 1, the beginning of the 2010-11 fiscal year.

The notices must be issued by March 15. Administrators hope employee unions will agree to pay and benefits concessions so layoffs can be minimized or avoided.

Karen Houck, president of the teachers union, says the district has not presented her with any concession proposals. Until such a proposal is provided, Houck said it’s hard to predict how many teachers might lose their jobs.

“We don’t know what they’ll offer in exchange for positions,” she said.

Trustees Mel Albiso, Frank Ibarra, Marge Mendoza-Ware and David Zamora voted to issue the notices. Trustees Robert Armenta, Pat Haro and Kent Taylor voted no.

“I have decided not to support it,” Haro said. “That doesn’t mean that I don’t believe there is a budget problem. I do believe there is a problem that we need to solve. I just can’t support solving it this way.”

Close to 200 people packed the board room, including teachers, students and parents, to protest the notices. Several students spoke in support of foreign language classes. One held up a sign that read, “we want German.”

Albiso, Ibarra and Zamora asked district staff to spare, if possible, four foreign language teachers on the layoff list.

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