No layoff help for troubled schoolsSteinberg vows to fight on for poor schools
Low-performing schools will remain vulnerable next year to layoffs that may decimate their teaching staffs.
Democrats, Republicans and silent voices on Tuesday defeated SB 691 (formerly SB 1285), which would have prohibited disproportionate teacher layoffs in roughly the state’s third poorest-performing schools. The bill failed to make it to the Assembly floor after it was defeated 3 to 5 in the Appropriations Committee, with no fewer than nine members declining to vote. Among those voting no was Democratic Assemblyman Tom Torlakson, a candidate for superintendent of public instruction.
SB 691 was a priority of its sponsor, Senate Pro tem Darrell Steinberg, but it ran into a mass of opposition: from the California Teachers Assn., which viewed the bill as interfering with seniority rules; the Association of California School Administrators and California School Boards Association, which complained about potential administrative headaches; and, on the other side, from Republicans who, along with Gov. Schwarzenegger, wanted the bill to go farther in dismantling teacher tenure protections.
The bill would have required that the percentage of teachers laid off in the lowest 30 percent of schools statewide, based on API scores, be no larger than the average for the district in which a school is located. The bill responded to a suit from the ACLU and Public Counsel Law Center on behalf of three Los Angeles Unified middle schools, Two years ago, they saw between half and three-quarters of its young staff – many committed to working in urban schools – get pink slips under the last-hired, first fired rules of the district’s teachers contract.
A Los Angeles County Superior Court judge issued a preliminary injunction in May, preventing further layoffs at the three schools this year. But without legislative action, the suit may be limited to schools in Los Angeles Unified.
Judge William Highberger, in issuing his injunction, said that state education code permitted districts to override seniority rules in instances when they conflicted with students’ constitutional right to an equal opportunity for an education – but that districts hadn’t acted on students’ behalf. And it’s certainly not clear that they will start doing so.
Steinberg said after the vote that he remained committed to the bill and would re-introduce it next year.