HAMMOND | The president of the Hammond teachers union has an idea to save some teaching jobs, something he said is in the contract.
The Hammond School Board approved sending reduction-in-force letters to nearly 200 teachers and support staff last month, saving the district about $7.7 million. That number included 33 elementary teachers, 64 secondary teachers, 80 support staff and 22 substitutes. A dozen teachers opted to retire.
Pat O'Rourke, teachers union president, said Tuesday a clause in the contract addresses voluntary and involuntary layoffs.
"If a teacher wants to take a year off from work, in lieu of being laid off, they can do that," he said. "The following year, they would come back to their position. We're hoping some people will bite. It may even be that someone who has worked 15 or 20 years may decide they are tired and want to take some time off. That would allow us to call back one of the younger teachers. It would buy us a year."
O'Rourke said someone who takes advantage of the policy might even decide being off for a year was nice, and later decide to retire early.
Hammond school Superintendent Walter Watkins said he and O'Rourke will discuss options.
"He has alluded to that concept a number of times in our discussions regarding reduction in force," Watkins said. "I'm not really clear on the details. ... Anything we can do to reduce the number of RIFs, I am more than willing to look at."
Hammond, like other school districts, have been laying off teachers and staff as a result of declining enrollment, funding formula changes and the effect of charter schools and the state's voucher program, which allows public funding to pay for private schools.
O'Rourke said the district lost about 315 students between the fall of 2010 and 2011. While reports suggest many students have returned to the Hammond district, officials don't know what the enrollment numbers will be, he said.
"I want to find a way to save some of our young teachers," O'Rourke said. "We have to look into every avenue. ... One told me, she is willing to come back as a teacher's aide. A man with 40 years experience is willing to be a custodian for a year."