Donna Gawlik was as stunned as any parent to learn in January that the Catholic school her children attended would close for good at the end of the school year.
The closing of St. Vincent de Paul School in Elma also meant Gawlik, a teacher at the school for 19 years, would be out of a job.
Nearly 200 teachers will lose their jobs later this week when 10 Catholic schools shut down.
Although she will miss St. Vincent de Paul, Gawlik considers herself fortunate. She’s one of the few teachers from closing schools who have been able to find jobs elsewhere. “It’s tough. There’s not a lot out there. It’s just a very competitive market,” she said.
Gawlik sent out résumés within a week of the January announcement of school closings. She was hired in April to teach in the fall at another Catholic school.
Diocesan officials anticipate at least 700 of the 1,000 children displaced by the closings will enroll in one of 37 Catholic schools that remain open – some of which have had to hire additional teachers to accommodate the influx of students from the closed schools.
Sister Carol Cimino, diocesan schools superintendent, asked principals to give priority in their hiring to teachers from the closing schools, and Cimino said she believes most principals have abided by that.
Still, any hiring will fall far short of the numbers of teachers who are being let go.
“It’s not going to be easy because there are just fewer places open,” said Catherine S. Manzella, president of the Diocesan Elementary Teachers Association, a union that represents teachers in four of the closed schools: St. Leo the Great in Amherst, St. Francis of Assisi in the City of Tonawanda, and St. Bernadette and Our Lady of the Sacred Heart in Orchard Park.
Most of the hiring for the fall already has been done, although retirements over the summer could open up a few more slots, Cimino said.
The diocesan website currently lists nine job openings in elementary schools, four of which are part-time posts.
“Even in public education, people are hanging onto their jobs a lot longer than they used to, because there aren’t a lot of jobs out there,” Cimino said.
Queen of Heaven in West Seneca, where enrollment is expected to double, has hired nine new teachers, more than any other school, she said.
Three of the nine are coming from Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary School in Elma. Another teacher from Annunciation will teach at Our Lady of the Blessed Sacrament School in Depew. Public schools hired two other Annunciation teachers, said Sister Marilyn Dudek, Annunciation’s principal, who also is looking for another job in Catholic education.
Fewer than a third of the teachers at Fourteen Holy Helpers had found jobs elsewhere, said the Rev. David A. Bellittiere, the pastor.
Gawlik said one other teacher from St. Vincent has found another job.
At some of the schools, teachers were hesitant to divulge whether they have received offers.
The Rev. Paul Seil, pastor of St. Bernadette Church in Orchard Park, said he didn’t have an accurate count of how many teachers will be employed.
“The teachers are very tight-lipped about whether they have jobs or not,” Seil said. “They don’t want to upset their colleagues.”
Some teachers told The News they did not want to be interviewed because they had been warned by diocesan officials not to discuss the closings with reporters. Teachers still looking for work did not want to say something in a news story that could upset their chances of landing a job, Manzella added. Other teachers said they were simply too saddened by the closings to discuss their situations publicly.
The last few months have been particularly challenging, as many teachers tried to maintain a sense of normalcy in their classrooms for the sake of schoolchildren, while at the same time not knowing if they will have a job.
“You could tell with some of the teachers that they were struggling,” Bellittiere said.
But some teachers found comfort in trying to make the school year go as smoothly as possible.
“The teachers want to do things the best for the children,” Dudek said. “With that goal in your mind, it’s often easier than dwelling on the sadness that everyone is experiencing.”
Still, she added, “it has been stressful for the teachers.”
Teachers who don’t find jobs will be eligible for unemployment benefits through the parishes that sponsor the schools. Some parishes also are offering severance packages.
Fourteen Holy Helpers, for example, will pay an additional two weeks’ salary to each of its teachers after they receive their final regular paychecks in August.
St. Bernadette Church will offer a sliding scale of severance pay based on years of service, as well as buy out remaining personal and sick days.
“We just want to try and be fair,” said Seil. “The parish will suffer a little bit, but the teachers are suffering, too.”
Annunciation will pay a week’s salary for every year a teacher was employed at the school.
“Their loyalty and devotion should be honored,” said the Rev. Eugene Ulrich, pastor. “We believe it’s a good severance.”
Some schools offered no severance, even after being pressed by the Diocesan Elementary Teachers Association. The association also tried without success to get health insurance coverage extended by a month at schools where it represents teachers, Manzella said.
“It was frustrating,” she said. “I was not real happy with the attitude. It was all about the bottom line and the money.”
Manzella said St. Leo was the most difficult negotiation.
Monsignor Robert E. Zapfel said the parish did all that was required by state regulations and under the terms of a contract negotiated with the Catholic teachers union just a few years ago.
“We did everything we could,” he said. “They asked for more than what the contract provided for, and we’re not in a position to do that.”
Teachers will spend most of this week finalizing grades. Principals will stick around longer to make sure any books, computers and other materials purchased with federal monies are returned to their local public school district or to Erie 1 BOCES, as per state guidelines.
Pastors will then try to figure out what to do with the school buildings.