How one former teacher is learning to live with a layoff

As summer came to a close, Dana Weygandt thought about her favorite back-to-school moments, such as setting out her students’ desks and organizing the syllabuses.

That didn’t happen this fall.

The Templeton resident was one of 52 teachers at Paso Robles Public Schools to be issued layoff notices last spring. Just 15 were hired back. Weygandt, who worked at Lewis Middle School, wasn’t among them.

Instead of mapping out lesson plans, the past six months have been filled with hope for new opportunities and the determination to find them.

“You just wait and hope you get the call saying ‘Yes, we have a place for you,’ ” she said. She’s scours the area for teaching jobs. Nothing comes up. She saw one temporary teaching gig that was part-time and an hour away, but the commute costs didn’t line up with the pay.

The 35-year-old thought about exploring another field, but her 12 years of teaching English, history and dance don’t often fit into the experience required for other careers. She considered going back to school, “but I already have a master’s degree in something I love,” she said with a sigh.

Plus, Weygandt can’t think of anything she’d rather do. Among the things she misses most, Weygandt said, is the impact she felt she made on children’s lives.

“I haven’t given up on teaching,” she said. “I love those moments where a student gets something that they’ve never understood before. There’s this light in their eye. Those are the best moments.”

Weygandt looks for new moments to inspire her each day. She’s busy looking for work, volunteering at the Paso Robles Library, helping with her husband’s business, taking dance classes and performing and serving on the North County Dance and Performing Arts Foundation.

“I’m not sitting around eating bonbons, or whatever they say,” she said. “I’m just a busy, motivated person, so my reaction to stress is to work harder and push myself.”

Weygandt is among dozens of teachers in San Luis Obispo County who are facing the effects of the recession. In the county’s largest school district, Lucia Mar Unified, 90 teachers were laid off, and 30 were later reinstated. Atascadero Unified rehired 19 of the 54 teachers it laid off.

To survive financially, Weygandt is receiving unemployment benefits — “a thing I never expected to say,” she added. It pays her 36 percent of her former salary, which means fewer trips to the grocery store, freezing half of each dinner and cutting back on frills.

“I’ve learned to spend less, think twice and pray harder.”

In 2006, she and her husband moved from Southern California to Templeton so he could take over his father’s financial business.

“He’s keeping us afloat right now, working two jobs,” Weygandt said. “I’m really grateful he’s been so strong throughout this.”She left a seven-year stint at San Dimas High School, where she taught, chaired the English department and founded and directed the school’s dance team.

The move to another district also meant she lost all of her tenure, which Weygandt says is one reason she doesn’t have a job now.

In her first year on the Central Coast, she commuted from Templeton to Greenfield in southern Monterey County to teach sixth grade at Vista Verde Middle School.

“It was a very long commute, but what an amazing experience it was to see the growth in (those) students,” she said, as English was a second language for many.

In 2007, she taught at Templeton Middle School but was laid off because of budget cuts. She started at Lewis Middle School in 2008.