Montclair College Prep in Van Nuys has sent layoff notices to 22 of the 30 teachers on its staff in an effort to cut costs at the financially troubled campus, according to school officials.
Montclair has already announced the elimination of its athletic program and its seventh- and eighth-grade classes. The school will now serve students in the ninth through 12th grades.
In a July 22 interview with Patch about cost-cutting efforts at the campus, Montclair Director Mark Simpson said only that the school had "lost a few teachers.”
Operations Director Shannon Peffer confirmed Aug. 1 that 22 teachers had received layoff notices and that they had been informed “in writing.”
When asked how the school determined which eight teachers they were keeping, Peffer said that basically they were teachers experienced with English as a second language curriculum (ESL), to serve the 75, mostly Asian, international students who would be attending next year.
“We are waiting to see how many of our American students sign contracts before we determine if we can bring a few more teachers back, but there is no chance of the athletics department coming back this year,” Peffer said.
Peffer also said that students' families received letters informing them about the cutbacks and enclosed the students' transcripts to assist them in transferring to other schools.
A former teacher spoke to Patch about the layoffs, asking not to be named for fear that negative comments about the school could hamper the teacher’s job search.
“Some of the teachers who received letters had been with the school over 30 years and didn’t even receive a phone call. It infuriated me that Mark was telling parents he kept the best teachers on staff,” the anonymous former teacher told Patch.
It was bad news for the 200-plus students and their families on July 15 when Montclair announced via snail mail that it would be eliminating its athletics department after 55 years of operation.
The original announcement, the news of which spread throughout Los Angeles the following week, did not include the fact that in addition to the sports program and the seventh- and eighth-grade classes, 22 of the school’s 30 teachers received layoff notices.
Simpson did not mention to Patch in the July 22 interview that 73 percent of the teaching staff had been laid off, but said the board of directors made the decision to eliminate the athletics department and the middle school program, leaving only grades nine through 12.
Simpson, 54, is the nephew of the beloved founder of the school, Dr. Vernon Simpson (known as Doc), who died in 2008.
“Eliminating the athletics department was a very tough decision, based on the incoming financial aid requests from our families," he said in the earlier interview. "It’s overwhelming us. The economy is affecting our parents. Some of them have lost everything—there are empty storefronts everywhere.”
"We got to the point where we couldn’t float the boat anymore," said Peffer, who is Simpson's daughter. "We spent roughly $750,000 on the athletic teams alone last year.”
55-year Old Athletics Program Eliminated
Students and alumni were stunned to hear about the elimination of the athletics department, but a couple of on-campus boarding football players from New York were still out on the practice field at the school July 25 with coach Teddie Anderson, who also received layoff notice.
“Nobody told us anything. We just moved here from New York. We are staying in the dorms and came out for practice, but nobody was here. We called coach Teddie and he told us, ‘no more football.’ We thought it was a joke, then everybody was crying,” 14-year-old Noah Williams said.
Anderson said he was as surprised as everyone else when he heard the news on July 18, but said he had not heard that 22 teachers had been laid off. He said he was very concerned about the 26 football players he refers to as "his kids," especially those who were staying in the dorms.
“The school has been gracious enough to let the kids stay here till they find a new place. It’s a great school and they offer a lot to these kids in addition to sports—great academics and entrance to a four-year college. Once I get my kids placed, then I can look at job opportunities for myself,” Anderson said.
Noah Williams was forced to return to New York at the end of July, after he was unable to find placement with a Los Angeles school.
“This breaks my heart. Noah is going back to a horrible environment,” Anderson said.
Montclair has had problems in the past with recruiting violations, falsifying grades and tuition reports and was consequently banned from the playoffs in 1991 and again in 2003.
The same anonymous former teacher claimed that as recently as last year, teachers were gently encouraged to pass marginal students who were in the sports program.
California Interscholastic Federation Communications Director Thom Simmons said he was aware of the Montclair's past violations, but couldn’t remember the details because the organization purges its records every four years.
"They accepted their sanctions and had no further violations. It's very sad," Simmons said referring to the elimination of the school's athletics department.
The school has had notable sports alumni including Major League athletes Russell Ortiz, Toi Cook and Torey Lovullo.
The school is also the alma mater of Cher, Nicole Richie and, more recently, Kerry Hasselhoff and Conrad Hughes Hilton.