Gilbert Public Schools’ governing board unanimously affirmed the layoff of 152 certified staff members at its March 30 meeting, four days after the employees heard the news.

Administrators cited the district’s large enrollment loss during the pandemic for the layoff. The district lost 1,644 students from the 100th day of school in 2020 to the 100th day in 2021 and projects another loss of 400 students for next year.

Enrollment-related numbers drive the state’s funding formula, and GPS projects a $10.22 million reduction in its maintenance and operations budget from this fiscal year to next, Business Services Assistant Superintendent Bonnie Betz said. That budget pays for most district salaries.

Superintendent Shane McCord apologized to the teachers affected by the reduction in force, or RIF, for the way the news was delivered March 26. The teachers were called into a meeting that day in which their principal read from a script and did not answer questions. McCord said that was on advice of the district’s attorney.

“The message that was delivered was cold and sterile, and that was never the intention, but nonetheless that was how it was given and how it was received,” he said.

Talent Management Assistant Superintendent Shawn McIntosh explained at the meeting how the staff members were chosen for layoff.

McIntosh said the district developed a rubric from three guidelines:

  • qualifications and certification of staff members to accomplish the district's educational program, including certification requirements for specialty categories and designation as a highly qualified teacher;

  • overall teaching experience, academic training, ability and performance; and

  • contributions to the educational program of the district.

For the rubric, the district had five criteria for elementary school teachers to be scored and seven for secondary school teachers, McIntosh said. The district’s principals did the scoring, which gave a teacher three points when judged highly effective in an area, two points if effective and no points if ineffective.

When scores were turned back into the staffing committee, it figured what score would be the cutoff point that would achieve the necessary reduction, McIntosh said.

Administrators said the low enrollments this year left the district overstaffed, and the RIF was necessary to staff the district appropriately going forward.

Betz said that contrasted from its 2009 RIF, when GPS laid off 267 teachers in the wake of the Great Recession. Betz said at that time the state did not have enough money to fully fund education.

Also different from 2009 was seniority and tenure were not considered for this layoff because of state law changes after those layoffs.

The board received 45 submitted comments about the RIF and an additional 19 people spoke during the public comment period, mostly about the layoffs.

Several of the speakers urged that the district table the RIF until the district could get a better picture of what the latest federal stimulus passed this month would bring to the district. The governing board also was criticized for its actions and lack of creativity in solving the funding issue.

“We apologize we are at this point, but we are,” President Charles Santa Cruz said.