On the last day of school, Anchorage principals hand layoff notices to 220 teachers

When MiCall Sweet read an email last Friday that said nearly all first-year and some second-year teachers with the Anchorage School District would receive layoff notices on the last day of school, she cried.

"I've been crying on and off since," said Sweet, a 24-year-old first-grade teacher and single mother who was hired by the district in August 2016.

The last day of school in Anchorage was Wednesday and for many of the district's more than 45,000 students it meant assemblies, field trips, parades and games.

For 220 of the district's nontenured teachers the last day of school included pink slips. Sweet was among the recipients.

State law requires that Alaska school districts lay off nontenured teachers by the last day of school and tenured teachers by May 15. If they don't lay off the teachers, they must remain on the payroll through the following school year, said Heidi Embley, Anchorage School District spokeswoman.

The Anchorage School District may recall some of the laid-off teachers. The number brought back largely hinges on the budget passed by state lawmakers who have gone into special session in Juneau without an agreement on a spending plan. For public schools, state funding possibilities range from a nearly 6 percent reduction proposed by the Senate to the House proposal that includes the same amount of funding schools got this year.

Embley said the school district had to anticipate the deepest possible budget cut. Administrators have said the Senate budget cut would result in the elimination of more than 300 jobs, which could not be absorbed solely through attrition.


[Waiting on lawmakers, Anchorage School District will send layoff notices to 200 teachers]

In addition to the 220 layoff notices issued Wednesday, another five tenured teachers received pink slips earlier this month. Embley said the district did not issue layoff notices to administrators because their contracts require a shorter notification period.

For Sweet, the layoff notice triggered sudden uncertainty about her career, her finances and her family's future.

Until recently, Sweet said she didn't plan to ever leave Anchorage, the city where her mother, father and sister live and where she hoped to raise her son. Sweet has lived in Alaska all her life. She graduated from Anchorage's Dimond High School and earned her teaching degree from the University of Alaska Anchorage, securing her first job at Gladys Wood Elementary School.

While she said she wanted to stay in Alaska, she said, she also couldn't imagine switching careers. Sweet hoped to become a teacher ever since she was 6 years old.

After receiving Friday's email, Sweet said she asked the school principal to give her the layoff notice as soon as possible.

The notices included the teachers' standing for getting rehired if the district starts to recall pink-slipped employees. Embley said the district issued the pink slips and assigned the numbers based on "last in, first out." The district laid off all first-year teachers on Wednesday except in "hard-to-fill positions," including those in special education and some language immersion jobs.

Sweet said she read her notice a day early, on Tuesday. Of the 91 elementary classroom teachers laid off, it said she would be the 78th rehired.

"It became very real," Sweet said. She said she kept repeating to herself: "I don't have a job." She said she went to tell the school's other two first-grade teachers and, "I told them, 'I didn't get a good number' and then I just started bawling."

Gladys Wood Principal Cindy Hemry said she handed layoff notices to Sweet and one other teacher at the school this week, the first time she has done that.

"It was one of the hardest things I've ever had to do as a principal," she said.

Hemry described Sweet as an "amazing teacher" who "was born to teach."

"It truly breaks my heart that this is happening to her," she said. "We don't know what's going to happen as far as the recall process goes. We hope they can come back."

Tuesday night, Sweet applied for six teaching jobs in Texas, where she has extended family. She hasn't told her 6-year-old son yet, she said, because she doesn't want him to worry. What if she actually does get her job back? she wondered. But also, she said, what if she doesn't?

Tegan Hanlon

Tegan Hanlon was a reporter for the Anchorage Daily News between 2013 and 2019. She now reports for Alaska Public Media.