19,000 and countingLayoff notices may continue to August
Wall Street has Black Monday, and now California teachers have Red Tuesday, so named because yesterday – Tuesday, March 15 – was code red for public education, the deadline for districts to issue layoff warnings to teachers. During a late afternoon news conference at Portola Elementary School in San Bruno, David A. Sanchez, president of the California Teachers Association, said they’d heard from 293 of the state’s 1,000 school districts and estimated that nearly 19,000 pink slips went out. He predicted that the number would rise to more than 20,000 by the time the final numbers are in. “In my 30 years as a kindergarten teacher, I have never seen such unprecedented cuts that are so deep and impact so many,” said Sanchez.
Whatever the final number released by the CTA, the actual figure will be even higher because the union only counts layoffs of permanent teachers, those who have been teaching for three or more years and have due-process rights. No one – not the CTA, not the State Department of Education or any of half a dozen agencies I called – keeps track of all the first- and second-year teachers who will be let go, and the temporary teachers working on one-year contracts as fill-ins and the like, even though they’re almost sure to disappear. A few phone calls to districts turned up some numbers: 164 in San Francisco Unified, 209 in Long Beach Unified, and 56 in San Jose Unified. Los Angeles Unified included temp workers in its 5,045 layoff notices.
“We’re here on a sad day,” said Tom Torlakson, the state Superintendent of Public Instruction, at yesterday’s event in San Bruno. Yet, the mood in the school’s small multipurpose room seemed more feisty than gloomy as parents, teachers, and children, most wearing red shirts, waved hand-lettered signs reading, “Where’s Our Bailout,” and “Stop the Cuts,” and speakers challenged state lawmakers to do a better job.
“I will tell you that sometimes it means you have to risk your own future, and if that’s what it takes, that’s what we demand they do,” said Jill Wynns, incoming president of the California School Boards Association, in a dig at the Republican legislators who are so far keeping the governor’s $12.5 billion tax extension off the ballot.
Without the tax extension, there’s no chance that Gov. Jerry Brown will hold to his pledge not to cut K-12 education next year. According to the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst, schools could lose $4.5 billion in a worst-case scenario; that’s on top of the $18 billion in cuts over the last three years. During that same three-year period 30,000 teachers lost their jobs, said Sanchez.
One of the big scares for next year, however, is that far fewer jobs will be saved than in recent years. For instance, 25,600 teachers received layoff warnings last year, but 10,500 of them were rescinded, in large part thanks to $100 billion in federal stimulus money to the states, which saved about a quarter-million teaching jobs nationwide. With that money gone, the doomsday scenario has moved in
This time around, some veteran teachers were caught off guard. “Three of us with tenure got pink slips,” said Kalasea Sanchez, a second grade teacher at Christopher School in San Jose’s Oak Grove School District. Sanchez is in her third year at the school, but has served on many committees and thought that experience might protect her. [Note: In Los Angeles Unified, the usual last in, first out procedure for laying off teachers was thrown out by a court for several dozen low-income, low-performing schools]. As of now, however, class sizes are heading up in Christopher School next year, going from the low 20s to 30 in kindergarten, first, second, and third grades. It’s a Title I school, more than half the students are English learners, and Sanchez says she’s always had some foster children in her classes.
“I was thinking today, I had this student last year who was taken away from his mom when he was about 4 for drinking a bottle of Gatorade with meth in it,” recalled Sanchez. “I spent a lot of time with him and bonded with him; his mom turned her life around. Today I saw him and he ran up and gave me a big hug.” He still has many challenges ahead of him, and Sanchez says she worries what will happen when she leaves and he’s in a larger class with a teacher who doesn’t know anything about him or his family.
Teachers who were pink-slipped will find out in two months, on May 15, if their layoff notices will be rescinded. But some districts are waiting until late summer to begin their layoffs. The State Education Code allows districts to lay off teachers between five days after a state budget is enacted and August 15, if the total revenue limit hasn’t increased by at least 2 percent. This hasn’t typically been a reliable fallback for districts because they cannot rely on the Legislature passing a budget on time.
But Proposition 25, approved by voters last November, requires only a simple legislative majority – 50 percent plus one – to pass a state budget. Raising taxes still requires a two-thirds vote, so even if the tax extension fails to make it onto the ballot or is voted down, the Democratically controlled legislature and the governor could pass a budget with massive spending cuts, which may force school districts to cut even more teachers just weeks before the start of the new school year.