LA’s new rules for teacher layoffsSome struggling schools protected
Los Angeles Unified will no longer lay off teachers based solely on last-in, first-out seniority rules. In a sharp departure from traditional practice in California, district trustees on Tuesday settled a lawsuit in a way that will ensure that layoffs will be spread evenly among district schools. Twenty new schools and two dozen of the lowest-performing schools that have shown the most improvement will be spared teacher layoffs altogether; they comprise about 6 percent of the total number of schools.
While affecting all parts of the district, the deal for the nation’s second largest school district is a landmark victory for children in low-income schools where layoffs predominated. Instead, schools with veteran staffs that traditionally have been spared layoffs could experience them. Schools that had been subject to the biggest churn in hiring will have more stability. With projections of more revenue shortfalls – and no sign that the Legislature will increase funding for schools – LAUSD could face layoffs again next year.
The Public Counsel Law Center, the ACLU of Southern California and pro-bono attorneys with Morrision & Foerster filed the lawsuit earlier this year on behalf of students at three LAUSD middle schools, where between half and two-thirds of teachers were let go in the 2009-10 year because of seniority-based layoff rules.
The settlement comes weeks after the Legislature killed SB 1285. It would have imposed some of the same layoff protections for low-performing schools statewide as those agreed to in the settlement. The California Teachers Association and United Teachers Los Angeles strenuously fought the bill.
But negotiations continued in LAUSD, with Deputy Superintendent John Deasy pushing for a settlement. There was a pragmatic reason for settling: Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge William Highberger had already indicated that he’d rule on behalf of the plaintiffs. In issuing a preliminary injunction in May, shielding the three middle schools from teacher layoffs this year, Highberger agreed with the argument that disproportionate layoffs of teachers, leading to permanent substitutes and disrupting efforts for school improvement, violated children’s fundamental right to equal educational opportunity. The current state law, he said, “expressly allows” a school district to override seniority rules when layoffs would interfere with that fundamental right.
Staffing patterns will change
Requiring a uniform percentage of staff layoffs at all schools will mean that at schools with veteran staffs, it’s possible that teachers with five or more years of experience, previously immune to layoffs, will get pink slips. At schools with predominately young staffs, perhaps teachers with three or more years will be protected.
The 45 schools that will be exempt from layoffs will include the three middle schools in the original suit – Gompers, Liechty, and Markham – and 22 other low-performing schools (with API scores in the bottom 30 percent) that have shown the biggest gains in test results. Exempting them will reward the schools’ progress. The 20 new and mostly small schools will also be given breathing room from staff disruptions. The number of exempt schools won’t change, but the district will be able to alter the list of schools from year to year.
Over time, the settlement may alter hiring and staffing patterns in the district, with some veteran teachers applying to low-performing schools that can offer more job security.
Catherine Lhamon, lead attorney in the case for the Public Counsel Law Center, said that plaintiffs’ attorneys will continue to press for a state law applying the settlement statewide. She did not rule out filing suit against other districts.
Senate President pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, who sponsored SB 1285, congratulated the district for settling the case and said the settlement should serve as an example to districts statewide. But his statement did not say whether he would introduce the bill again next year.