After more than a decade of budget cuts and a bout of hiring freezes, Clovis Unified is changing course and planning to recruit several dozen new teachers.
The district intends to add at least 125 new educators to its staff of 1,650, 25 of whom likely will be hired over the next month. School officials say they're holding a hiring fair this week and 400 prospective employees are signed up. Registration already is closed.
The push is a reversal from years past, when the district — like many others across California — raised class sizes as state belt-tightening forced schools to do more with less. Clovis Unified's annual operating budget has been slashed by $50 million since 2002.
The district escaped teacher layoffs, said chief human resources officer Roxanne Braswell, but went years without hiring staff, even as enrollments grew.
So what is driving the hiring hustle? Higher enrollment numbers, plus new state regulations directing schools to gradually lower elementary school class sizes to 24, are part of the reason, district spokeswoman Kelly Avants said. Clovis elementary classrooms currently average 27 students.
An influx in state dollars — including an extra $20 million the district expects to get under Gov. Jerry Brown's proposed budget — will pay for new hires.
"We are intentionally getting on this early because we know that we're going to need teachers," Avants said. "We want to really make a concerted effort to hire the best of the best."
Clovis Unified is one of a few districts in the region that say they're preparing to add teachers this year.
Mike Berg, Central Unified's superintendent, said the district likely will hire fewer than two dozen new teachers — plus a few more to fill spots left by retirees.
Any new teachers will help meet modest enrollment increases, he said.
It's the same story in Sanger Unified, said district Superintendent Matthew Navo. He plans to add 30 to 40 new teachers this year.
Unlike districts that increased class sizes during tough budget years, Navo said Sanger schools kept the student-to-teacher ratio at about 25:1. That leaves little room to shorten class rosters even further.
"Our (school) board had committed to keeping (budget cuts) as far away from the classrooms as possible," he said. "So we're not having that unique push to get back down in our class sizes."
Fresno Unified spokeswoman Jamilah Fraser said the district will add 25 new teaching jobs. The district will hire another 25 new teachers to replace retirees and employees who resign.
In December, the district announced it was hiring 200 extra employees including teachers, administrators and staff.
Fraser said the district will make early offers to teachers starting at the end of January.
Clovis Unified leaders say they're pounding the hiring drum because more and more students enroll each year. This school year, 850 more kids enrolled than the year before, Avants said.
A pickup in home construction and more transfers from outside the district help explain the increase, she said.
Enrolling more students is nothing new in Clovis, she said, but this is the first time in years the district has accommodated growth by adding staff.
Sierra Vista Elementary teacher Heather Zemlicka is one of the district's newest hires. The sixth-grade teacher came on board at the central Clovis school in fall 2013.
Zemlicka said her prospects looked bleak after she completed her teaching credentials and began her job search. She opted to substitute teach to make ends meet.
"Before I was hired at Clovis, I applied at many different areas and actually there wasn't a lot available to even apply for. It's a pretty tough market for teachers right now," she said, but added that it's gotten better since she was hired.
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