As many as 21 employees in the Phoenix-Talent School District could be laid off to counter losses in public school funding, a repercussion of unemployment and unrealized tax collections statewide.

As many as 21 employees in the Phoenix-Talent School District could be laid off to counter losses in public school funding, a repercussion of unemployment and unrealized tax collections statewide.

Phoenix-Talent officials cautioned that no decisions have been made, but they felt a responsibility to notify staff of the possibility of layoffs, which would help to reduce the district's $2.5 million deficit.

"I have high hopes we will find an alternative way to come to a conclusion on this," said Cally McKenzie, Phoenix-Talent schools personnel director.

The district is in labor negotiations with employee unions. One proposal on the table is to cut about 20 academic days. Other factors that could relieve the need for layoffs include resignations and retirements, improved state revenue forecasts and an increase in public school funding by the state Legislature, McKenzie said.

Phoenix-Talent administrators already have agreed to eliminate up to 20 academic days next year to avoid layoffs. However, the employee unions have not yet decided whether to consent to such a cut.

About 14 to 15 of the jobs would be teachers, and six would be support staff, though those numbers could change as resignations or retirements are tendered through the end of the year. The jobs represent about 7.8 percent of the district's work force of 269.

Letters to employees who could be affected will be sent out today or Saturday, McKenzie said.

"What it comes down to is people and their families, and it's highly personal and painful," she said. "We try to do this with as much consideration and care as we can."

Talent Middle School students, assembled at a School Board meeting Thursday for a question-and-answer session, said they would rather see the district cut academic days than teachers.

"Students become strongly attached to their teachers and vice-versa," said eighth-grader Zoey Rose. "I know that as a student, I love the stability of knowing that the same person will be there every day to teach me something new. Teachers are just as important as anyone to us kids in our daily lives and to take them away from us would be just cruel, to be blunt."

Rose also discouraged the district from cutting any more electives, which already have been whittled away during past years' budget cuts.

"We often hear stories about all the amazing electives that used to inhabit the halls of our school district," she said. Among them were technical arts, metal shop and home economics, she said.

School Board members said they also would favor cutting days over teachers in order to save jobs and rein in class sizes, which run as high as 28 pupils in some kindergarten classes.

Reach reporter Paris Achen at 541-776-4459 or email pachen@mailtribune.com.