Teacher job losses decline even though federal money dries up

Despite the shutoff of federal stimulus funding for the school year that just began, the state — surprisingly — lost fewer teaching jobs than when nearly $1 billion was being funneled into Connecticut schools.

“It’s the smallest reduction we’ve had in years by far,” said Joseph Cirasuolo, executive director of the state superintendents’ association. “It’s the first year without federal [stimulus] money. We didn’t lose anywhere near what we were expecting.”

A survey completed by 90 percent of the state’s superintendents found that they are starting the year with 393 fewer teachers, a 1 percent reduction since last year. In the previous two years — when the state received millions in federal stimulus money — districts shedded 1,200 positions in the 2011-12 school year and 1,500 in the 2010-11 year.

“Districts are left with far fewer teachers today, which results in larger class sizes. It’s a downward spiral,” said Eric Bailey, a spokesman with the Connecticut chapter of the American Federation of Teachers.

Although most districts have been able to reduce the number of teacher layoffs and position eliminations, a few districts weren’t as fortunate.

Norwalk reduced its teaching staff the most of those surveyed by the Connecticut Association of Public School Superintendents, eliminating 43 positions. New Britain, East Hartford, New London and Windham also imposed significant reductions.

“With these reductions come increased class sizes. It might go from 18 to 20, which isn’t a problem for one year, but we are facing years of continued reductions,” Cirasuolo said.

The stimulus money for education was billed as desperately-needed funding to preserve teachers’ jobs, but even so, the state has lost 3,100 jobs in the last three years alone — a 7 percent reduction. Student enrollment numbers for the current year won’t be available until later this year, but in previous years enrollment has declined by 1 percent each year statewide.

Education leaders credit Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and the legislature with funneling millions more into education, which closed the majority of the financial shortfall.

“I don’t know where we’d be without that,” Cirosuolo said.

The state has received $779.2 million in federal stimulus money for education over the last five years and another $130 million in a federal jobs package two years ago.

Teachers also helped by agreeing to pay freezes, but will expect cost-of-living pay raises in the near future.

Cirosuolo and Bailey said that while districts managed to mitigate the number of teaching positions they shed this year, many districts will not be so fortunate next year if the state does not increase funding again.

“Something needs to change,” Bailey said.