The summer day when Beverly Butler got a formal-looking letter in the mail, she thought it was a done deal.
“At that time, I had mentally made up my mind to be unemployed,” she said.
After four years as a paraprofessional at Rollins Elementary School, Butler became one of 56 employees told they would be laid off this year by the Richmond County school system to balance a budget crippled by state funding cuts. Butler, who had retired years earlier as the director of a substance abuse program in New York, accepted that she would have less income and less to do.
In the months since 56 paraprofessionals, custodians and secretaries received pink slips, however, more than half have been invited back to work as positions opened up through people retiring, moving away or quitting.
According to Chief Human Resources Officer Norman Hill, the school system has offered jobs to 42 of the 56 employees since layoffs were announced this summer. Out of that group, 32 returned.
“This is a positive recall of talent to improve our classrooms,” Hill said. “It’s unprecedented in a lot of ways, considering the budgetary challenges we faced.”
In June, the Board of Education passed a budget that included nine furlough days, a property tax increase and the elimination of 131 positions to make up for more than $19 million in state funding cuts. Seventy-five teaching positions were cut, but all affected teachers were saved by being transferred to vacancies at other schools.
Of the employees who returned to work during the past few months, 12 were custodians and 20 were a combination of paraprofessionals and clerical staffers, Hill said.
All laid-off employees were given notices in the summer and told their final day of work would be Sept. 4. Vacancies opened as soon as school began in August, though, so some employees, such as Butler, were told their positions were saved before their last day arrived.
Others received offers to return to their jobs as recently as this month.
Amanda Lowe, a paraprofessional at Southside Elementary School, got a call in the summer saying her position was being eliminated.
The single mother will finish her bachelor’s degree in January and hopes to become a full-time teacher. She is working as a paraprofessional in the meantime for income and experience.
Lowe learned in early September that her position would be saved, days before what was to be her last day at work. She said she didn’t have any problems staying with the employer that almost laid her off.
“It was kind of a shocker,” Lowe said about the experience. “I’m just glad to be back to work.”