'That's a big chunk of our family': Gilbert Public Schools cuts 152 certified staff positions

Gilbert Public Schools
Gilbert Public Schools announced a reduction in force of 152 certified staff members March 26. (Tom Blodgett/Community Impact Newspaper)

Gilbert Public Schools announced a reduction in force of 152 certified staff members March 26. (Tom Blodgett/Community Impact Newspaper)

Gilbert Public Schools announced a reduction in force to certified staff March 26 as the district grapples with what could be a $10.22 million budget cut.

The reduction is 152 certified staff positions, district spokesperson Dawn Antestenis said. The affected staff members were notified in the afternoon of March 26. Attrition was taken into account as the district considered the reductions, but it was not enough to cover the district’s losses in student enrollment from the coronavirus pandemic, Antestenis said.

The district employs 2,017 certified staff members, Antestenis said, making the reduction 7.54% of that segment of staff.

At the last governing board meeting March 2, Business Services Assistant Superintendent Bonnie Betz showed the board a projection loss of 2,650.95 students in average daily membership, or ADM, from fiscal year 2019-20, where the pandemic started, to next fiscal year 2021-22. ADM is a key figure in the state's funding formula and is the total enrollment of fractional students and full-time students, minus withdrawals, of each school day through the first 100 days in session.

Betz showed the board a projected maintenance and operations budget for FY 2021-22 of $250.3 million, down from the current $260.52 million. Maintenance and operations pays for day-to-day operations and is mainly made up of employee salaries.

District administrators were unavailable for comment March 26, but governing board President Charles Santa Cruz said it was a sad day for the district.

"It's not a pleasant circumstance to have to communicate to our staff, for sure," he said. "Enrollment is our driver, and this is yet another consequence of this pandemic."

Declining enrollment a factor

The email sent to all GPS employees March 26 pointed to the loss of enrollment as making the reduction necessary.

“Decisions like this are not easily made, and as a school district, we greatly value all of our employees and their contributions,” the email read. “We continue to make every effort to increase enrollment for next year, and it is our hope that many students lost during the pandemic will return to our schools over the next year.”

Antestenis said no classified staff positions—which includes such jobs as instructional aids, maintenance workers and security guards—were affected. She said the district looks at classified staffing every year based on staffing patterns, student needs and student enrollment. Santa Cruz said he did not foresee any reductions in those positions but could not rule it out.

Heather Schlemmer, a special education teacher at Gilbert High School who was not among those whose jobs were cut, said she was unaware a reduction in force was a possible budget remedy.

“With a district that really speaks often about how we’re a family, that we’re part of the GPS family, you know, that's a big chunk of our family,” she said.

Schlemmer said the cut comes at a time of year when GPS traditionally issues contracts, so employees were “getting a little anxious” to hear something. She said educators have little information on education funding.

“It’s very disappointing to work in a community where the representatives in the Legislature are part of some of the decisions that continue to strip away budgets to public schools,” she said. “Gilbert is a district that really has to compete with the school choice message, and it has very real consequences to people who have dedicated their lives to serving kids. It’s my hope that our administration has done the best they can do to make good decisions in a terrible situation.”
By Tom Blodgett

Editor, Gilbert

Raised in Arizona, Tom Blodgett has spent more than 30 years in journalism in Arizona and joined Community Impact Newspaper in July 2018 to launch the Gilbert edition. He is a graduate of Arizona State University, where he served as an instructional professional in the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication from 2005-19 and remains editorial adviser to The State Press, the university's independent student media outlet.