When the Beaverton School District cut $37 million from the budget this year, officials eliminated more than 340 teaching positions.
About 100 teachers remain laid off, two months into the school year. To minimize layoffs, the district involuntarily transferred nearly four times that many teachers into new buildings – often to teach unfamiliar subjects.
Rob Manning explains the massive domino effect triggered by teacher layoffs.
Then 365 Beaverton teachers learned in July they’d be moved into new classrooms.
One was Rick Bortnick. Last year, you would’ve found him in this portable classroom at Westview High.
Bortnick started AP Econ at Westview. But he’s no longer here.
He’s teaching PE at Beaverton High. He’s not happy about the move. He analyzes it like an econ teacher might.
“So this is a class for kids who have already completed the basic weightlifting course. And they’re athletes,” he explained.
“OK, where is this asset being best used? You have a human being – human resources, labor – is very important, if not the most important factor of teaching. We want to use this person to get as much efficiency as possible out of it. I’m not being used that way, in any way, shape or form,” he said.
Bortnick contends if he applied to be a PE teacher, no one would hire him.
And the teacher he replaced is now down the hall, in a Special Education classroom.
“(I’m) Bob Boyer, I’m a special ed teacher, and the head football coach, and a track coach.”
Boyer says Special Ed isn’t a good fit for him. He’s passionate about phys ed and how it can build kids’ confidence.
Boyer explains, “All of a sudden, they start feeling, well if I can do this, I can do anything. That’s one of the things we talk about – ‘hey, you look at how much stronger you are, you didn’t think you could do that. Well if you don’t think you can pass a math test – I bet if you worked at it, you could do that, too.’”
Boyer’s colleagues say he’s “Mr. Beaverton High.” He went to school here. He lives nearby and one of his kids is a student here. Even though he’s still at Beaverton High, he was sad to leave PE.
“That’s my love, that’s my joy. When I found out I was moving, that kind of disappeared,” he said.
But Boyer’s passion and Bortnick’s efficiency argument had no bearing on Beaverton’s transfer process.
The process started with the Beaverton School District’s $37 million budget shortfall — and the way officials dealt with it. First, they eliminated 344 teaching positions.
Then, they had to figure out how many teachers were needed in various positions across Beaverton’s 51 school buildings. Teachers who weren’t needed had their names thrown into a big “pool.”
Karen Hoffman is the president of the Beaverton Education Association.
“Alright, so you have this this big pool – and it’s far too large.”
She says state law requires the district to transfer teachers in a way that spares as many jobs as possible.
Hoffman says, “So now they have to look at all of these people and say ‘Who can we take out of the pool, because they can teach more than one thing?’”
And if they can teach more than one subject, they’re likely to be moved. Rick Bortnick was moved into PE because he had a PE license, even though he’d never taught it. Bob Boyer was moved into Special Ed, because he had that license.
Hoffman said, “People who had very high seniority and had multiple endorsements who ended up in that second endorsement area that they’ve never taught, or not for a very long time, could’ve prevented that by removing their endorsement.”
Bortnick says had he known that, he would’ve dropped his PE endorsement.
For all of the disappointment, Bortnick’s new students — like sophomore Scarlet Disko — don’t seem to notice.
Disko said, “I mean, I don’t know how he does it, but I think that’s really impressive that he has such a good attitude about, as well as the other teachers who have to put up with the changes, or teaching something totally different and everything.”
Sue Robertson is the Beaverton district’s head of human resources. She made an effort at the beginning of the school year to meet with as many transferred teachers as she could.
Robertson said, “These are good, good people that are really struggling. But there are also those who said ‘I never would’ve chosen this on my own, but this has been a really good move for me. I’m happy here and I wish I’d done it years ago.’”
Other teachers feel completely out of sorts, though.
One of them is a former colleague of Rick Bortnick’s in the social studies department at Westview High, Elle Youngblood.
Elle Youngblood explained, “Well, I have a law degree, so I have a doctorate in law. So I was hired by the district to teach criminal law and government at Westview High School, and that’s what I’ve been doing for five years. And then this year, a couple weeks before school started, I got a call that said I was teaching middle school science, health, and PE, which I’ve never done any of before.”
Youngblood is now at a magnet school where kids go for a specialized science program. She says parents complained during conferences that she wasn’t qualified. She told them it was a district decision.
She said, “It’s ridiculous to have children being taught by people that have no idea what they’re doing and are a day ahead of their kids.”
Youngblood’s day isn’t over when she locks up her room at Health and Science Middle School.
To stay at least a day ahead of her kids, Youngblood drives a mile down the road to a nearby middle school to learn from another science teacher.
Youngblood told OPB, “If I can get enough material from her to go a few days, then I can go over a few days a week …”
Youngblood hasn’t been teaching that long. So her multi-faceted teaching license likely saved her job. But Youngblood says she would rather have been laid off, with enough notice to find another teaching job.
The transfer rules don’t require consideration of anything outside teacher’s license and seniority. Youngblood is a lawyer. The new criminal law teacher is not. Bortnick had credentials to teach Advanced Placement. His replacement back at Westview High, didn’t.
Lefor says, “(My) Name is Tom Lefor, and I am a social studies teacher here at Westview High School. This year, I teach AP Econ and American Studies.”
Tom Lefor could only take over Bortnick’s AP Econ classes because the Beaverton School District spent limited training dollars to fly him to an AP workshop.
Lefor said, “They have them in Los Angeles, San Diego, I think they have a few of them on the East Coast, Philly … So I was in LA.”
Union and school district leaders say that teacher transfers are dictated by state statute. Union officials can’t negotiate transfers – but they say the district could’ve handled them better. HR director Sue Robertson says the district did the best it could in the face of huge budget cuts, legal requirements, and a tight timeline.
Robertson said, “As difficult and as horrendous as this process is – it was consistent. You have to be consistent.”
The district says it followed the law.
But Beaverton-area state representative, Mitch Greenlick says the law should add one more aspect to seniority and license guidelines: a teacher’s competence in the subject.
Greenlick said, “I’m talking to the union, and I intend to propose an amendment to that statute – at least that’s my current intention - that would require competence to be included, along with seniority and other certifications.”
Union and district officials worry that tightening the law could make it harder to save teaching jobs.
Ultimately, union and district leaders say the fault lies with legislators like Greenlick who have funded schools at an inadequate level. Greenlick argues decisions the district made over the last few years played a role, too.