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Hawthorn District 73 announces 23 layoffs
By Russell Lissau | Daily Herald Staff
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Published: 4/22/2009 10:42 AM | Updated: 4/22/2009 4:26 PM

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Twenty-three instructional assistants in the Hawthorn Elementary District 73 school system will lose their jobs under layoffs announced Wednesday.

The cuts, which only affect aides hired this school year, were prompted by the recession and an expected drop in property-tax revenue, officials said. The layoffs are scheduled to take effect June 10 when the school year ends.

The targeted employees - all part of the district's teachers union - were to be notified Wednesday by their principals, Superintendent Youssef Yomtoob said.

Some of the laid-off workers could be hired back, depending on what staffing changes occur over the summer, Yomtoob said.

Union president John Langelund is optimistic some will return.

"We're trying to let our people know that as things change and as positions become available, they will be the first people invited back," Langelund said.

More layoffs aren't anticipated, but "the picture may change," Yomtoob said.

Hawthorn employs more than 100 instructional aides at its six schools to help teachers in classrooms and also to assist special-education students who require individualized assistance, District 73 spokeswoman Lynn Brandl said.

No students who need aides as part of individual education programs will lose that assistance, Brandl said.

"We wouldn't be able to do that," she said. "If they get one-on-one (help), they're still going to get the one-on-one."

The layoffs, which were approved by the school board during a special meeting Wednesday morning, will save the district about $300,000 a year, officials said. That's less than 1 percent of Hawthorn's annual $48 million budget.

Discussions about possible layoffs began in January or February, Yomtoob said. The move was prompted by concerns about Hawthorn's financial future, not any current crisis, he said.

"Financially we are healthy," Yomtoob said. "We have saved money for rainy days. But we don't want to touch that savings yet."

The layoffs were not part of a recently negotiated five-year contract for teachers, aides, counselors and other employees, Yomtoob said. Langelund said he didn't learn of the administration's plans to let staffers go until after that contract was signed.

"We're always looking to protect our members," he said. "Certainly in this economic time, we do not want to have people unemployed."

Yomtoob called the layoffs difficult.

"These are good people and they've done a fantastic job for us," he said. "But we have to be responsible for the future."

The layoffs will change the ratio of aides to students in the district, Brandl said. Right now, one aide is on staff for every 40 students. Next year, the ratio will be 50-to-1.