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Milwaukee schools to lay off 354 teachers

By the CNN Wire Staff
Cash-strapped state and local governments will soon shed up to 110,000 jobs, many of those belonging to teachers.
Cash-strapped state and local governments will soon shed up to 110,000 jobs, many of those belonging to teachers.
  • Superintendent: Milwaukee Public Schools reducing staff becase of state budget cuts
  • Most of the affected teachers are in elementary schools; layoffs effective Friday
  • Class sizes will be larger, older textbooks won't be replaced
  • Superintendent asks teachers in union to contribute 5.8% annually to their pensions

Read more about teacher layoffs from CNN affiliate NY1.

(CNN) -- In a budget-cutting move likely to be echoed around the country, Milwaukee Public Schools said Wednesday it will lay off 519 staff members -- including 354 teachers -- because of $84 million in state cuts and the system's efforts to control costs.

Superintendent Gregory Thornton also said schools will likely see larger class sizes and the continued use of older textbooks. The state budget cut means $200 less per child, officials said.

The layoffs are effective Friday, the beginning of the third quarter, when cash-strapped state and local governments are forecast to shed up to 110,000 jobs, according to IHS Global Insight.

Thornton said he was "extremely troubled" that most of the affected teachers are in elementary schools.

"Children are being caught in the middle," Thornton told reporters. "They deserve better."

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Anticipating the state cuts and the end to about $100 million in federal stimulus funding, the district's own budget cut school summer options and froze all "noncritical" building maintenance, Milwaukee Public Schools said on its website. Besides the 519 layoffs, the system will not fill about 500 open positions.

At a news conference, Thornton repeated his call for members of the the Milwaukee Teachers' Education Association to contribute 5.8% annually to their pensions.

The union did not return a message left by CNN Wednesday evening.

Gov. Scott Walker on Sunday signed a two-year state budget that slashes spending to local schools. The state's highest court earlier this month reinstated a bitterly contested law, pushed by Walker, that restricts collective bargaining for state workers.

Milwaukee Public Schools, which has about 82,000 students, has made $182 million in budget cuts, said communications director Roseann St. Aubin. It also closed schools, with the number going from 184 to 175.

About 71% of the system's budget goes for salaries and benefits, St. Aubin told CNN.

Several unions representing school employees agreed to pension concessions, the spokeswoman said, but teachers, who have a contract through 2013, have not formally responded. If 5,600 members were to contribute 5.8% to their pensions, the district said it would have enough to pay 200 teachers.

St. Aubin described Milwaukee at the "tipping point" in its financial support for schools. The schools want a dialogue with citizens, potential donors and supporters, St. Aubin said.

"We're going to become a smarter, more efficient district," she said.

The outlook looks grim even past the upcoming school year. The state budget calls for cuts in 2012-2013 and Milwaukee schools have projected a $30 million deficit that year, according to St. Aubin.

Though tax revenue is starting to rise, states continue wrestling with multibillion-dollar budget gaps. Federal stimulus funds helped minimize job cuts until now, but that money essentially runs out on June 30. Property tax assessments have plunged in many areas.

So states are planning to slash funds for education, social services and local governments, as well as downsize their payrolls even more in the coming fiscal year.

Teachers and school staff will bear the brunt of the layoffs this summer, as tens of thousands will likely be laid off around the nation. The national job numbers should reflect the hit in July and September.

In April, the Detroit Public Schools district sent layoff notices to all its 5,714 teachers, saying it must determine its staffing needs amid a drop in enrollment.

A $66 billion budget approved Wednesday by the New York City Council prevented 4,000 teacher layoffs. As part of the deal, 2,600 retiring teachers will not be replaced. Opponents say that will lead to bigger class sizes, according to CNN affiliate NY1.

CNN's Marlena Baldacci, Phil Gast and Tami Luhby contributed to this report.