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CPS Budget Cuts: Kelvyn Park High School Teachers Fear For Jobs

 Kelvyn Park High School, 4343 W. Wrightwood Ave., has seen its budget cut by 27 percent, leaving teachers worried for their jobs.
Kelvyn Park High School, 4343 W. Wrightwood Ave., has seen its budget cut by 27 percent, leaving teachers worried for their jobs.
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DNAInfo/Victoria Johnson

HERMOSA — There are no easy answers for teachers facing layoffs, but Kelvyn Park High School teachers haven't gotten many answers of any kind.

So, frustrations were running high when a handful of teachers, parents and community members met at a local school council meeting Tuesday evening in the school's auditorium.

The trouble started last week when Chicago Teachers Union representatives spotted 17 open positions listed on the CPS recruiting page.

The possibility that current teachers may be laid off did not come as a complete surprise. The school's budget was slashed by about 27 percent, but teachers were not expecting so many positions cut or the possibility that they would simply be replaced by perhaps younger, cheaper teachers.

"A lot of people have been calling me and emailing me," said history teacher Eric S. Wagner, who also serves as the school's union delegate. "This is driving people nuts."

Another issue is so-called "redefined" positions, Wagner said.

Several of the openings listed are for split history and English positions, which would could mean trouble for history and English teachers who have only one of those two certifications.

"These are people's lives we're talking about," he said. "This affects about half of my department."

Principal Susan Mekarski tried to calm the fears of Wagner and other teachers present, explaining the openings as a combination of a bureaucratic and technical glitch — that when she "closed" a budget line item it created an opening in the CPS system.

"I do not have any English positions, any social studies positions, any math, science, P.E., anything," she said. "I do not have any positions open."

But as the meeting wore on and Wagner did not relent in asking what exactly was going on, Mekarski finally began to acknowledge that layoffs were coming and that in fact, one position would be redefined into a history-English split position.

Still, she said her hands were tied to say any more about what exactly will happen.

"Even though I want to call all the people affected and talk to them, I can't," she said. "All principals have gotten directives not to talk about this stuff. I know that people are upset. The best I can do is say I'm sorry I can't say more."

Kelvyn Park High School has seen its share of troubles in recent years. Mekarski is the fifth principal to head up the school in two years and, before she arrived this past fall, the school had four principals in one 12-month period, according to teachers.

The school falls below CPS average in nearly every way, including test scores, attendance and graduation rates, and has been on academic probation for years.

It also continues to lose students. With a 2012-2013 enrollment listed at 977 — already well below the 2011-2012 numbers — the school is projected to lose another 200 students in the upcoming year, something Mekarski said will make layoffs inevitable.

"It's based on our lower enrollment," she said. "The less students I have, the less teachers I have."

Mekarski assured Wagner, LSC members and other teachers that she would tell them more as soon as she could, perhaps as soon as next week.

But Wagner was not comforted by Mekarski's assurances.

"People are sitting at home, and I can't give them the answers," he said.