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L-L teacher furloughs planned

Up to seven could lose their jobs in school district facing $1.8 million budget shortfall.

LEHMAN TWP. – Several Lake-Lehman School District teachers are quietly learning whether they will have jobs in the next academic year.

Superintendent James McGovern said final plans for curriculum changes are under review by the state, and that he has been talking individually to those who face furlough – up to seven teachers, which would save the district as much as $450,000 annually.

“We’re trying to give those teachers the heads-up, let them know where we are in the process,” McGovern said Tuesday.

The district faced a nearly $1.8 million shortfall in next year’s budget, created in large part by cuts in state funding. All local districts are in a similar bind, but McGovern said Lake-Lehman had to be more aggressive because it had almost no surplus at the start of the year.

Wilkes-Barre Area, for example, is still mulling options in plugging an $8 million hole, but it has roughly that much in reserve; if it can’t find enough cuts, it can dip into the surplus. Lake-Lehman, by comparison, started this school year with only about $265,000 in reserve, and had to start planning cuts early.

State law only allows teacher layoffs if a district experiences dramatic enrollment decline or eliminates programs. Lake-Lehman is “reinventing” itself, McGovern has repeatedly said, substantially revamping curriculum.

“Exploratory foreign language” classes – given a few days rather than daily – in lower high school grades are being eliminated, as are computer classes in elementary grades. The amount of class time students must take to graduate is going up in some subjects but down in others. Physical education time in elementary grades will be cut roughly in half.

Any such changes must meet state standards, and McGovern said the plans approved by the board are under state review. Once they are approved, he will have the green light to adjust teaching staff to match the new curricula, which will mean layoffs based on seniority – newest workers facing furlough first.

One thing the district will not do is increase class sizes in kindergarten through sixth grade, McGovern said. The number of students in other classes – physical education and industrial arts, for example – could climb.

The curricula changes were devised with state help, so McGovern is confident the plan will be approved. And even if the Legislature decides to restore some funding in Gov. Tom Corbett’s proposed education budget, the cuts at Lake-Lehman will go into effect, he added.

“These moves are necessary for the development of the students,” McGovern said. “We’re trying to teach the students how to think, not what to think.”

State law only allows teacher layoffs if a district experiences dramatic enrollment decline or eliminates programs. Lehman is “reinventing” itself, McGovern has repeatedly said, substantially revamping curriculum.

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