RACINE - Unified will likely eliminate 125 positions for the next school year to balance the district's budget because of anticipated reductions in state aid, according to estimates released this week.

A larger than usual number of retirements and resignations combined with the fact some soon-to-be eliminated positions are already vacant means the district would only have to lay off 60 employees to meet their staffing and budget goals. About 10 additional employees may also be laid off because of the district's changing needs and changing student enrollment, said Unified Chief Financial Officer Dave Hazen.

Those slated for layoff, as well as those positions being eliminated, are mostly educational assistants because Unified officials want to keep as many teachers as possible to continue working on improving student achievement. The positions that could be eliminated were chosen based on principal input and student enrollment projections that make some staff no longer needed, Hazen said.

All the positions to be cut may not be finalized until after the school year starts. No official notice has been given about layoffs or eliminated positions, and different positions would be notified at different times based on contracts.

Staff holding soon-to-be eliminated positions could fill other Unified positions that become available within the district from retirements and resignations as long as employees have the necessary licensing for the alternate positions, Hazen said. He added those making such a switch would likely see little or no change in pay.

The district expects more retirements and resignations this year because of state changes in collective bargaining and employee contributions to pensions and health care, but there will still likely be some staff with eliminated positions that do not find alternate jobs in the district.

That means 70 employees could be laid off: 60 educational assistants and 10 teachers. The district has a total of about 2,550 employees including about 420 educational assistants. The 60 educational assistants would be laid off to balance the budget while the 10 teachers would be let go because they lack the necessary qualifications to fill any of the teaching positions made available by retirements, Hazen said.

"If you're an English teacher you can't go teach math," he explained.

The discrepancy between staff qualifications and open positions means the district will actually end up hiring about 40 teachers, Hazen said.

Even with the hirings, the district will see savings. Because district officials will not be paying salaries and benefits for those 125 eliminated positions, they'll save an estimated $4.5 million even after taking into account unemployment compensation for workers laid off, Hazen said. The savings will help plug what remains of a $25 million district deficit caused primarily by state aid cuts and stimulus money being used up. The deficit was previously significantly reduced by wage freezes, higher employee retirement contributions and a cheaper health plan.

Unified employees spoke about the position eliminations and layoffs at a School Board meeting Monday, calling them "harmful" and "shameful." They said students would suffer and requested non-personnel cuts be considered.

"Be creative," urged Horlick High School French teacher Melissa Zeien. "There's a lot of children and a lot of people on the line."

Superintendent Jim Shaw agreed Monday that losing staff is harmful but said, "We are being defunded and put in a position where it is more difficult to support students."

While every layoff is bad, the situation could also be worse, Hazen said. Kenosha is looking at about 300 layoffs while Milwaukee has projected about 1,000, he said.

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