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Gilbert Public Schools staff shocked by layoffs amid enrollment decline

(Facebook Photo/The Official Gilbert Public Schools District)

PHOENIX — Angela Philpot said she couldn’t hold back the tears Monday when she told her students she won’t return next school year. She teaches seventh and eighth grade English language learners at Desert Ridge Junior High School.

“It was really difficult to talk to them,” she said. “They were really upset.”

She’s one of the 152 Gilbert Public School employees who were laid off late last week.

A district spokesperson told KTAR News 92.3 FM the decision was not made easy and that it was “directly related to a significant drop in student enrollment.”

The district has 1,600 fewer students enrolled for next school year.

Philpot said she and several other teachers were called to a meeting Friday after school. Most are special education teachers with years of experience.

“My principal read a scripted statement from the district saying that your contract is not being renewed for next year due to declining enrollment and that was pretty much it,” she said.

It caught her and the other teachers in the room by surprise. She said they were told they couldn’t ask questions or make comments.

“I’m a 23-year veteran educator with a master’s degree so it was just perplexing, and my colleagues are just as highly-qualified,” Philpot said.

Carrie Caruso was just as shocked. She’s an orchestra teacher at Mesquite High School, but during the pandemic has been teaching a physical education class online through the district’s Global Academy.

Caruso said she and 47 others — including teachers, counselors and administrators — were called to a virtual meeting Friday. A district staff member read a letter letting them know they were being laid off, and they couldn’t ask questions or make comments.

“It was a WebEx meeting, and we could see each other on the screen,” she said. “Just looking around at my colleagues, everyone was in shock. No one said a word when he was done reading the letter.”

She said she saw one teacher crying, and that’s when it sunk in that she was not going to be able to return next school year.

Caruso said the news came a day after she had an observation meeting in which her supervisor told her she was a “highly-effective teacher.”

“I went from Thursday thinking, ‘Okay great, I’ll hopefully continue on at this site because I got the gist of teaching online,’ and then to Friday afternoon I don’t have a contract,” she said.

In an email sent Friday, the districts notified all staff about the layoffs. The email was sent out after impacted staff were notified.

“Gilbert Public Schools, along with many other school districts, faces a reduced number of students going into the next school year following the global pandemic,” the district wrote in the email. “Decisions like this are not easily made, and as a school district, we greatly value all of our employees and their contributions.”

The district also said it’s making every effort to increase enrollment for the next school year and hopes many students who left the district during the pandemic will return.

The layoffs come as data from the Arizona Department of Education shows district schools statewide saw a 6% decline in enrollment this academic year compared to last while charter schools saw a 9% increase.

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