[Vision2020] A Lesson in Uncertainty

Tom Hansen thansen at moscow.com
Thu May 10 15:36:40 PDT 2007

>From today's (May 10, 2007) Moscow-Pullman Daily News -


A lesson in uncertainty; Lawsuit against Moscow School District puts staff
at risk of layoffs

By Kate Baldwin, Daily News staff writer

Thursday, May 10, 2007 - Page Updated at 12:00:00 AM

Russell Elementary School sixth-grade teacher Eric Hudelson has been torn
between "denial and hope" since he found out his job could be cut as a
result of the lawsuit filed last week against the Moscow School District.

"I've been very distracted that nauseous feeling. All day. Every day," he

The lawsuit filed by Moscow dentist Gerald Weitz threatens $7.6 million in
supplemental funding for the district and caused an immediate freeze on
spending and hiring.

The hiring freeze has left roughly 36 teachers waiting to find out if the
district will be able to issue their contracts for the next school year. The
district is obligated to notify the teachers by May 25 of its intent to hire
them or let them go.

"It's really a desirable district to teach in," Hudelson said. "I've always
felt that the community supported education. So it's kind of a gut blow."

Russell Elementary School Principal Carole Jones said eight of the nine
classroom teachers at her school face this unknown.

"The district is making every effort through attrition to make sure that
people have jobs but not necessarily in this building, which frightens me
because we're just putting together a brand new team," she said. "As
principal, I'm very protective and I'm watching these young educators pull
together and form this team at Russell and I certainly do not want to lose

While teaching positions have opened in the region this spring, Hudelson
said most that he knows of are already closed.

"If I do get laid off, there is no time to apply," he said. "It's kind of a
closed door for next year. I don't know what we'll do."

Hudelson, 37, supports his wife, Cassie, who is finishing her degree at the
University of Idaho, and their 9-month-old daughter, Avery. The family just
purchased a house in Moscow last year.

"This is our only income, and we're barely able to make ends meet as it is,
being a bottom-tier teacher in this state," he said, adding that he had been
working during the summers to bring in extra income. "I haven't even begun
looking to see what is out there."

Jones said teachers have been looking to the seniority list and wondering
how the lawsuit will affect them.

"There are teachers with new babies, teachers getting married, teachers with
families to support there are people who moved to Moscow because they want
to be in Moscow," Jones said. "This is very upsetting to them."

Weitz filed the lawsuit May 3 in Latah County District Court. He alleged
that the district's 1992, voter-approved indefinite supplemental levy is
invalid because the election did not meet statutory requirements under state
law. As a result, he also alleges that all subsequent elections for levy
increases also are invalid.

That includes the $1.97 million increase approved March 27 by 56.7 percent
of voters.

Weitz's attorney, Brian Thie of Moscow, declined to comment.

Superintendent Candis Donicht said the hiring freeze was put in place as
soon as she heard about the pending lawsuit, and the spending freeze came
after the lawsuit was officially filed.

"Any savings that we have now from our spending freeze can be used to offset
cuts next year," she said.

Donicht doesn't know if the district will be able to use any money from its
supplemental levy.

"That is an unknown at this point," she said.

The court served the district with the lawsuit Monday. From there, the
district has 20 days to answer and a court date will be set within 30 days
in Moscow.

Meanwhile, Donicht is trying to figure out how to keep her staff. There are
11 positions currently open due to attrition through resignations and
retirements. Donicht said it may be possible to transfer some teachers into
different positions in order to stay with the district.

"We pride ourself in having the best staff in the north," she said. "And we
would like very much to keep them."

Teachers fall into different contract categories. Category I teachers are
hired for one year with no promise of renewal. The eight Category I
positions will automatically be re-opened. Categories II and III teachers
have been with the district for two and three years, respectively. Teachers
in this category must be notified of the district's intent by May 25.

"We have to get those decisions ready next week because we have to present
to the board" May 22, she said.

Russell Elementary School teacher Michelle Charles said the lawsuit is
hitting her twice. She is one of the at-risk Category II teachers, and she
has two children in the district.

Charles, 39, said her older daughter recently came home from high school and
told her she was nervous about coming changes. The Moscow High School junior
uses an educational plan to help her succeed while managing Tourette's

Charles said her daughter is worried that some of her elective options will
be gone, that there may not be the same amount of time for her teachers to
collaborate with her and that sports may be cut back.

"This is ultimately hurting the kids," Charles said. "I'm not real sure what
is behind the scenes as far as (Weitz's) motivation."

Charles said her family already decided that they are in this together.

"We will not relocate," she said. "We're just going to wait it out."

Charles said her husband works, but she will have to do something.

"It's not an option whether I work," she said.

While her colleagues have been supportive, Charles is struggling to keep
looking on the bright side.

"The sad thing is bureaucracy takes so long," she said. "It makes you feel
uneasy wondering how long the court system is going to take."

Hudelson said he hasn't forgotten that the majority of people in the
community supported the levy in March. 

"I think that put before the voters again, it would pass," he said.


One Question:  Who benefits from your lawsuit, Dr. Weitz?  Certainly not the
children you profess to care so much for.

Seeya round town, Moscow.

Tom Hansen
Moscow, Idaho


"A bad cause will ever be supported by bad means and bad men." 

- Thomas Paine (English Writer, 1737-1809)


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