But as we dug into it, the story got even odder. There were no news reports of pending layoffs. The school board was facing a $4.5 million shortfall, but just last month had landed a big victory worth as much as $3 million when the state Supreme Court ruled the district no longer had to help fund the county’s library.
In fact, few in the county seemed to know what Duncan was talking about, including the education reporters who cover the school district for the Charleston, W.Va., newspapers. “There’s very little sequestration-related panic, at least on the education side of things,” one reporter said.
Washington Post colleague Lyndsey Layton helped unravel the mystery.
She discovered that these were not layoffs, but rather “transfer notices” sent to 104 Title I teachers for reasons unrelated to the sequestration cuts. (West Virginia is considering requiring counties to set aside 20 percent of their budgets for their lowest-achieving schools.)
Pam Padon, director of federal programs for the school system, told Layton that ultimately, five or six jobs might be lost though the state-mandated change. But in the meantime, the notices mean only that teachers might end up with a new assignment.
What about Head Start? It turns out that those notices were issued because the county program is not getting automatically renewed but must compete for funding with other districts.
The Fact Checker also spoke with Ron Duerring, the Kanawha schools’ superintendent. He said sequestration potentially would add to the county’s burden, but he confirmed that no teachers have received “pink slips” and none have been told they are not coming back in the fall. “We do not know what the cuts are,” he said. “Then we will make that determination.”
In other words, Duncan’s scare story about teacher layoffs — right now, at this moment — was apparently too good to check. Given that Duncan had made this claim once to reporters, couldn’t anyone in his office have bothered to pick up the phone and double-check the information? Essentially, he was passing along unverified gossip.