Education cuts affecting business, gym, music classes

| Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Ryan Dunmire said losing her job as a teacher in the Steel Valley School District would be so devastating that she might leave the profession entirely.

"Teaching in Steel Valley has always been a dream of mine," the 2001 Steel Valley graduate said. "I put my heart and soul into it."

Her role as a high school business teacher was among 39 teaching positions the district cut last week. There's a chance some of the teachers could be recalled, but it's not a given.

Dunmire, 28, of West Homestead began teaching in the district five years ago. Her father is retiring this year after 37 years there.

"I followed in his footsteps, and I wanted to make an impact like he did," she said.

As school districts grapple with climbing pension costs, decreased tax revenue and, for many, millions in possible state funding cuts, they're cutting business, gym and music classes. Still, even core subjects like math and social studies aren't safe from staff reductions.

Butch Santicola, a spokesman for the Pennsylvania State Education Association, the state's largest teachers union, estimated that 500 to 750 teachers in Western Pennsylvania could lose their jobs for the next school year. In the past two months, four districts have proposed cutting nearly 130 teaching jobs combined; two others won't replace a combined 27 retiring teachers.

Santicola said many teachers feel public education is under attack. Gov. Tom Corbett's budget proposes more than $1 billion in cuts to education, and a bill the governor supports would use tax dollars to send students to nonpublic schools.

"We have people who are devastated. There are meetings where people have been crying; they feel betrayed," Santicola said. "We've gone through layoff periods before, but nothing like this."

A possible change in state law could cost even more teachers their jobs.

Districts are permitted to cut positions because of declining enrollment, program elimination or school closure or consolidation. A Senate bill under consideration would allow districts to lay off teachers for economic reasons.

Experts say there are options for job-seeking teachers, including additional subject certifications, relocation or switching careers.

Though most of the teachers who graduate from Duquesne University want to stay in the region, or at least Pennsylvania, they know that the state traditionally has a surplus of teachers, said Nicole Feldhues, director of career services at Duquesne University.

"There's a lot of competition out there, so that's certainly on (graduates') minds," Feldhues said. "They see what's happening and they know there are cutbacks. We advise building experience and being willing to relocate."

Teachers can make themselves more marketable by getting certified in math, science or a foreign language -- fields where there's a shortage of teachers. Or they can consider administrative roles, Feldhues said.

Teachers also could consider moving to careers that incorporate many of the skills they use in the classroom, she said.

"Some fields we see folks transition into is employee training and human relations, nonprofit organizations where they need an education coordinator, museums, libraries or universities and college content specialists," Feldhues said.

Dunmire said she has a master's degree in sports and entertainment management that would allow her to pursue a business career.

"I don't think I'd be able to find a job in education because they're cutting all the programs," she said. "I don't know if I'd be able to go through that again."

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