Dozens of teachers gathered at the Sweetwater district administration building Monday.
It's something they've done many times before, only this time it was to file for unemployment compensation.
Approximately 191 Sweetwater Union High School District employees, including teachers, counselors and librarians, were given final layoff notices May 9. Coincidentally it was also national Day of the Teacher.
Their last school day was Friday.
Monday morning, Sweetwater Education Association President Alex Anguiano said the layoffs will cause overcrowding in already impacted classrooms.
“The main issue is losing that many teachers creates a master schedule disaster,” Anguiano said.
In the district’s memorandum of understanding with the SEA, staffing ratio and student contacts do not expire for two more school years.
In addition, district faculty members have said that principals don’t have a clear indication on staffing distribution.
While some are following the contractual 31 to 1, others plan to staff at 34 to 1 and still others report a ratio as high to 40 to 1.
“These master schedules are the worst I’ve seen in my 27 years,” Anguiano said. “Our students will suffer.”
Eighty positions were eliminated in science and math alone.
“The district insists on trying to force us to accept their worst case scenario,” district lead negotiator Roberto Rodriguez said last month.
An unemployment benefits seminar the Human Resources Department hosted May 17 at San Ysidro High School was at the least central location and held during “teachers’ duty day,” making it difficult for many to leave their classrooms.
SEA member and Palomar High School teacher Helen Farias said Monday that the unemployment seminar was hastily planned and showed “callous disrespect.”
“Only one-third of teachers were able to attend,” she said.
There’s been talk around the water cooler that the district planned it that way to prevent most people from attending — a tactic teachers believe was used at last month’s board meeting, when officials declined to change the venue to accommodate hundreds of teachers protesting the layoff notices.
Julia Polanco has taught biology and chemistry for 10 years.
“To receive a notice that said my services were no longer required — it was a slap in the face,” she said.
Polanco’s husband, a teacher, was also laid off. They have a 2-year-old son.
“I’m facing financial instability for my family,” she said. “I risk losing my house. My family has no health insurance.”
She said the consequences also affect her students who will face huge class sizes come July 25 when school resumes in the fall.
“How will students be anything other than just a number?” Polanco said. “Our board’s decision will make it easier for our students to fall through the cracks.”
Many parents and teachers referenced the district’s money mismanagement, citing $4.5 million wasted on iPads for students, $24,000 to use the Cricket Wireless Amphitheatre for high school graduation and other wastes of taxpayer money.
On Monday, Anguiano said teachers are dealing with the most corrupt school board in the nation.
“Some of the board members belong in jail but we need them to do the right thing before they leave,” he said.
“Despite our employer we do a great job. We could do better if we had a board that was honest and caring.”
The Sweetwater Education Association bargaining team had its first contract negotiations March 9 and had another scheduled Thursday.
“We’ve offered furlough days but it’s not good enough,” he said.
At a May 7 board meeting, board trustees voted 3-2 to approve the layoffs.
Erin Barron, 32, taught seventh grade life science at South West Middle School for two years.
“I’m stuck in between a rock and a hard place,” Barron said. “This year I would have made tenure and become a permanent teacher.”
Barron has a 5-month-old girl, Sadie. She said the layoffs have created uncertainty for her family, as she is the primary income provider for the family.
“My husband and I talk about saving money and cutting costs,” she said. “We’ll have to dig into our savings.”