Colleen Hoffman, who works in the Half Hollow Hills School District, should be celebrating her second teaching award. Instead, she's praying she has a job after next month.
Hoffman, 34, was in her fifth year at when she won her first award, recognizing her excellence in social studies education on Long Island. She then earned a national award last month for a hands-on economics program that she and colleague, KimMarie Lennon, implemented in the district, in which children are taught the basics of spending and saving through playful activities.
While two awards rest on her shelf, Hoffman is holding off on celebrations until she knows when her next paycheck will come.
Hoffman is one of 14 elementary school teachers who were laid off in February due to low enrollment. The district did manage to hire four teachers back full-time however, and Hoffman was offered a leave replacement position, which is similar to a substitute teacher. She is currently filling in for another educator who is on maternity leave at .
After five years of a holding a full-time position in the district, Hoffman now receives substitute pay and is not eligible for health insurance benefits. Unable to afford a place of her own, she lives with her parents, works a part time job tutoring and even takes up pet-sitting so that she can make her student loan payments.
“It’s bitter sweet,” Hoffman said about her awards. “I’m happy my work was recognized, but in the same breath, here I am doing great job and I don’t even have a salary.”
Hoffman considers herself lucky for now though, since she may not have a position at all after January when the classroom’s full-time teacher returns.
“I have no idea what’s going to happen next year,” she said.
Hoffman isn’t the only one nervous about her employment.
State and local governments laid off nearly 58,000 teachers last year, according to the U.S Department of Labor. A federal aid package, signed by President Barack Obama last year, allocated roughly $10 billion for school districts to retain or rehire teachers and other staff members, with the remainder of the money directed toward health care for the poor, emergency personnel and other state purposes to be used by 2012. However, with a state tax cap, forcing districts to work under a 2-percent property tax increase, Long Island school districts are unlikely to be offering any new jobs, a reality Hoffman and many other teachers are facing.
Hoffman said that she applied to other schools on Long Island when she was given the pink slip, but the local job market for teachers is bleak since districts are looking to hire back their own teachers that were let go in last year’s budget cuts.
“I’ve invested a lot here and I’ve accomplished a lot in just five years," she said. “I’m praying and hoping that things work out from here. Everyone’s been very nice – I just wish I could have a full time position and do what I love to do.”