Will LAUSD layoffs be a model?

Districts not bound to last in, first out

An appeals court on Monday refused to delay a settlement that will shield children in 45 low-income schools in Los Angeles Unified from layoffs that would create havoc with their education. With a March 15 deadline a week away for teacher layoff notices statewide, the big question is whether other districts will follow the lead of Los Angeles Unified and protect their most vulnerable children as well.

Districts have a model in the deal reached between LAUSD and attorneys representing students most victimized by the yearly churn of teacher layoffs. They also have a District Court judge’s decision last year empowering them to deviate from standard seniority-based layoffs under state law when children’s right to equal educational opportunity is adversely affected. What districts need is the fortitude to act on those children’s behalf.

The Sacramento Bee reported that Sacramento City Unified Superintendent Jonathan Raymond plans to prevent disproportionate layoffs at six academically troubled schools where the district has made a special effort to recruit teachers. But other districts haven’t indicated whether they planned to capitalize on Judge William Highberger’s landmark ruling.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, the Public Counsel Law Center, and the firm Morrison & Foerster filed the suit in the LAUSD case. Public Counsel lead attorney Catherine Lhamon wouldn’t say whether attorneys plan to sue additional districts in coming weeks. She did say that she and attorneys have asked districts about their plans.

Last year, Gov. Schwarzenegger and State Board of Education President Ted Mitchell sided with plaintiffs in the LAUSD case, even though the state also was named in the suit. United Teachers Los Angeles opposed the deal that district administrators and plaintiffs’ attorneys reached on the grounds that it violated seniority rights under state law and the teachers’ contract.

Under the deal, 45 lowest-performing schools and those showing signs of academic improvement will be protected from layoffs this year. The district will set a cap on the percentage of teachers that can be laid off in the remaining schools. The practical effect will be that teachers with the same years of experience may get layoff notices in one school with lots of veteran teachers but not another school with less experienced teachers.

Unlike his predecessor Jack O’Connell, who took no position on the lawsuit, the new Superintendent of Public Instruction, Tom Torlakson,  filed briefs opposing the settlement and calling for delaying its implementation, because of the settlement’s “far reaching, unintended consequences throughout the state.”

There’s no question that the issue is complex. Layoffs ideally would be partially based on a credible system of teacher evaluations. But the lack of such a system in California is no justification for inaction. Districts know which schools would be devastated by seniority-based layoffs – like the middle school in LAUSD in which 72 percent of the staff, mostly relatively new teachers, got layoff notices. Districts know which low-performing schools, under new leaders and turnaround strategies, show promise of academic improvement but need more time.

This month promises to be particularly tragic for teachers. Because of uncertainty over the state budget, districts may issue layoff notices to tens of thousands of teachers ­– many thousands more than will be let go if  Gov. Jerry Brown succeeds in getting state tax extensions on the ballot and voters to approve them in June. Teachers will have the possibility of losing their jobs hanging over their heads for much of the summer.

No legislative fix for now

Last fall, a bill that would have partially resolved the issue statewide died after passing the state Senate but failing to make to the full Assembly for a vote. SB 691 would have required that the percentage of teacher layoffs in the lowest-performing schools be no higher than the average for all schools in their districts. The sponsor, Senate President pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, hasn’t reintroduced it, so it’s every district for itself, for now. (Update: Sen. Bob Huff’s office points out that Huff, R-Diamond Bar, is sponsoring SB 355, which would allow districts to lay off teachers based on performance evaluations and a district’s education program.)

Last month, the Education Trust-West issued Victims of the Churn: The Damaging Impact of California’s Teacher Layoff Policies on Schools, Students and Communities in Three Large School Districts. Its recommendations include:

  • repealing the  state law requiring districts to use seniority as the primary criteria for layoffs (California is one of only a dozen states that do);
  • protecting high-poverty schools from the disproportionate impact of layoffs and the churn caused by bumping rights; and
  • moving back the March 15 deadline for layoff notices to the summer, giving districts more time to make accurate layoff decisions while reducing excessive notifications.


  1. Again the main point is lost in this argument, why do we have to lay off thousands of teachers?  If people want to argue we need to maintain staffing levels at these schools and districts then find a way to fund it.  Instead we subject districts to massive financial cuts and rail against how they implement them with layoffs.  The other insulting insinuation with this suit is the implication that young teachers are inherently better than older teachers.  In most districts if there were large layoffs at a particular site those teachers would be replaced with more veteran teachers that would not be subject to layoffs in the future thereby stabilizing staffing at those schools.  Also data shows that 33% to 50% of new teachers leave the profession in the first 5 years anyway.  So many of these teachers you save from layoffs will most likely leave the profession.  You have let go of the teachers committed to teaching while keeping many teachers that will leave.

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  2. My understanding is that it takes the largest school districts a few months to prepare their districtwide layoff lists because of the many factors such as teacher credentials, subject matter expertise and specific experiences, as well as seniority.  So really, from January on, almost all a large district can do is decide where to draw a line on the list — it is almost impossible to redo the entire list.
    The cynic in me is curious whether Public Counsel sent out their letters prior to January, when inquiries would have been timely, or after, at which time the letters simply provide the law firm with the legal grounds to sue these school districts.  If it’s the latter, it seems these letters are more about getting press and collecting attorneys fees than about addressing any inequity.  If it’s the former, I’m curious to hear the perspective of districts that did not use this model in developing their layoff lists.

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  3. Okay, naive I will be.  If 70% of a school’s teachers are laid off, by whom will they be replaced?  Will they not be replaced by higher seniority teachers transferred from other schools?  Seems to me that if the objective is to have veteran experienced teachers, then a school would benefit from laying off the “newbies” and replacing them with veteran teachers.  Sounds like the problem is the transfer policy, not the layoff policy.

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  4. That is the problem. School like these are inner city school in which most teachers DONT want to teach at. You cant force veteran teachers to go but now if you want a job you  will. Is that a good way to go to a new school? Either way, your forced to go in one way or another.

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  5. Hi Faye, From my experience as a public school teacher, the vast majority of veteran teachers are very, very reluctant to leave the schools that they are in to relocate to an underperforming school. It often results in a noncollaborative and disgruntled staff. The students undoubtedly benefit from having teachers they are familiar with and are familiar with them and their academic strengths and weaknesses. It definitely disrupts the learning environment to have large amounts of staff turnover. This should be about the kids, not the teachers.

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  6. I am a veteran teacher who works in LAUSD.  I have had the pleasure of working at an elementary school in South Central L.A. for 12 years now.  The settlement claims to save inner city or low performing schools from loosing teachers.   Unfortunately, the settlement is flawed!  My school is not one of the 45 protected schools and we stand to loose about 85% of our teachers due to recent cuts.  We are a low performing school….have been for a few years.  Meanwhile, a very close friend and colleague on the other side of town is working in one of the 45 protected schools.  Their test scores are much better than ours.  Who’s protecting my students? How did her school make it on the list?  Even she was surprised to learn her school was on the list.  Is anyone really looking at how the schools are being chosen?

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  7. As a public school teacher, I feel this is absurd!  We are subject to layoffs when Deasy gives himself a 80,000 raise! That is another teacher’s pay for year! Why isn’t that in the papers? Where is his shared sacrifices? I am frankly tired of getting bashed by the public and the newspapers! If LAUSD can not pay me, then I should be laid off as I am not working for free!
    I will collect the unemployment and go to law school because teaching has been a terrible terrible career choice! Besides LAUSD will be bankrupt in about ten years….

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  8. How can it be that a teacher with a master’s degree and being a UCLA grad with 10 years of experience can be threatened with immediate job loss, when others who struggled academically just to get a teaching credential get a free ride just because their artificial  contract date is 11 years and up?  Stop being so politically correct and call it as it is. Of course it would be wrong to suggest categorically that those who couldn’t seem to cut the mustard and had to take so many years just to qualify were all slugs. I’m sure there are heroic cases of battling illnesses and financial woes  which did validly delay some newbies from their getting the credential.  But what I’ve seen, coming from a teaching family, is that frankly some teacher candidates just don’t have the smarts and/or the drive to push through against odds and get the credential in a timely manner, and that goes against their character and ability. Our politicians once again fail to grasp the value of keeping dedicated and able teachers.  As a parent, all I can say is don’t let your sons and daughters grow up to be LAUSD teachers.

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  9. Anyone seen the audit system LAUSD or UTLA is using to track the seniority date of it’s most precious assets???? I pray it’s not the same audit company that handled the payroll transition!

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  1. Will LAUSD layoffs be a model? | Thoughts on Public Education | U.S. Justice Talk
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