Layoff notices reach 20,000

Not even veteran teachers are spared
By

Cynthia Dalmacio has a mnemonic device to keep track of how long she’s been teaching in Brisbane Elementary School District; one pink slip for each of her four years.  The latest one came yesterday, the state deadline for notifying teachers that they may not have a job in the next school year.

Brisbane teacher Cynthia Dalmacio received her fourth layoff notice in as many years. (photo by Mike Myslinski). Click to enlarge.

Brisbane teacher Cynthia Dalmacio received her fourth layoff notice in as many years. (photo by Mike Myslinski). Click to enlarge.

The small hillside city of just over 4,000 residents, overlooking San Francisco Bay, has three schools with 550 students and 30 teachers.  The district sent out eight layoff notices this week.  Previous cuts left one principal for the two elementary schools, and one superintendent for Brisbane and neighboring Bayshore Elementary School District.

“I spend the last few months of each school year in a deep depression because teaching isn’t just a job for me, it’s who I am,” Dalmacio told reporters and a handful of teachers and parents at a news conference organized by the California Teachers Association (CTA).

As of Thursday afternoon, the CTA had heard from more than 200 local unions – including the largest districts in the state – and reported that about 20,000 California teachers were facing the same uncertain future as Dalmacio.

The ten districts issuing the most layoff notices, according to the CTA, are:

  • Los Angeles Unified – about 9,500
  • San Diego Unified – more than 1,600
  • San Juan Unified – 458
  • Capistrano Unified – 392
  • Sacramento City Unified – 389
  • Moreno Valley Unified – 332
  • Long Beach Unified – 309
  • San Bernardino City – 251
  • San Francisco Unified – 210
  • Sweetwater High School District – 209

Not counted in these numbers are first- and second-year teachers who, because they’re not tenured, can be laid off without notice. That number could reach into the thousands, but it’s hard to know, because the state doesn’t keep track of it.

Skipping Seniority

This year, however, the trend is shifting and pink slips are reaching teachers way up the seniority ladder.  One Brisbane teacher who received a pink slip has been there for eight years. San Juan Unified in Sacramento sent notices to some teachers with eleven years in the district.

“Teachers with less than three years were gone the first year (of recent layoffs),” explained Ron Bennett, president and CEO of the consulting firm School Services of California. “As districts have had to ratchet down, they’ve had to go up in seniority.”

Seniority is also being sidestepped in some cases, as more districts turn to provisions of the State Education Code to prevent high turnover rates at academically fragile schools. It started on a large scale in Los Angeles Unified School District two years ago. A lawsuit, filed on behalf of students at three low-performing schools serving mostly students of color, argued that they were being denied an equal education as a result of instability caused by massive layoffs.

In big urban districts, “almost every junior teacher will be assigned to a low-performing inner city school, and as they gain seniority they move out to suburban schools,” said School Services’ Bennett. “In some low-performing schools every single teacher was getting a layoff notice and in higher-performing schools there were no layoffs.”

Since the settlement in Los Angeles Unified, several other large urban districts have used the exemptions in the Ed Code to protect some schools from disproportionate layoffs, including Long Beach, San Francisco – where the union is fighting the move – and Sacramento City Unified.  Last year, an administrative law judge allowed the district to protect jobs at nine schools under the Ed Code exemption for teachers who have undergone special training to improve academic achievement and use different teaching methodologies.

CTA Vice President Eric Heins releasing layoff numbers at news conference in Brisbane. (Photo by Mike Myslinski) Click to enlarge.

CTA Vice President Eric Heins releasing layoff numbers at news conference in Brisbane. (Photo by Mike Myslinski) Click to enlarge.

CTA Vice President Eric Heins finds the argument unconvincing and suspects it’s a political move by districts to ease out veteran teachers who are active in the union and keep younger teachers who are less involved.  “If we have schools that are so bad that nobody wants to teach there, then it’s not right to put a new teacher there or any students,”  said Heins.

This year is different

For the most part, districts have been able to rescind many of the preliminary layoff notices as the state budget picture became more clear.  Last year, the Governor’s May budget revise suggested (erroneously as it turned out) that revenues would be high enough to prevent further cuts.  But districts still had money left from the Obama Administration’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) which kept thousands of teachers in the classroom.

This time there’s no federal safety net, and school funding is riding on passage of a tax initiative in November. “This year may be a little bit different just because of the sheer size of the cuts combined with structural issues inside school districts,” said Arun Ramanathan, Executive Director of The Education Trust—West.  Then he chided the governor and legislators for abdicating their responsibility by focusing solely on the November election.

“The disconnect between the pain at the local level and what they’re doing in Sacramento is fundamental, and is basically what has been happening for the last four years,” said Ramanathan, “Nobody loses their job up there.”

Sacramento City Superintendent Jonathan Raymond was even more blunt in his criticism.  “We have to be honest that education is not a priority in California; if it was how come we let things get like this?” he wondered, citing cuts in everything from smaller class sizes and libraries, to music, art and athletics.

When Raymond first took the job as superintendent in 2009, he said a friend thought he was crazy.  “He said it’s like hitting the beaches of Normandy wearing an orange jumpsuit,” recalled Raymond.  It may have seemed hyperbolic at the time, but not so much today after the state has dropped to 47th in per pupil spending on education; nearly $3,000 below the national average.  “This is our Normandy today.  If we don’t educate our children what kind of society are we going to have?” he asked with exasperation rising in his voice. “For the life of me I don’t understand why these people in Sacramento don’t fix it.”

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10 Comments

  1. The last four years have seen $20 billion worth of brutal cuts to public education.  It’s time to reinvest in our children.  The Molly Munger/PTA initiative, “Our Children, Our Future”, is still the only one that funnels money directly to school sites and mandates parent and community input re how the money should be spent.   It is based on a reasonable and fair sliding scale income tax for everyone.

    The money will be placed in a separate trust fund that can only be spent as authorized by the provisions of the Act. The Governor and Legislature are prohibited from using the money.  It cannot be used to increase current teacher salaries, but can be used to hire additional teachers and staff, i.e., the arts, science, technology, engineering and math, smaller class sizes, counselors, librarians school nurses, and more.

    No more than 1% of money raised by the The Molly Munger PTA “Our Children, Our Future” initiative will go towards administrative costs –  mandated.  The initiative will raise $10 billion for schools per year for twelve years.  Every child in the state will benefit. The money goes into a trust and does not pass through Sacramento.  Parent, teacher, community input re how money will be spent at each school site is mandated as well.   At this point in time, CA would need to spend an additional $60,000 a year, per classroom, just to catch up to the national average — that is a fact.  CA has the highest ratios of students to teachers, students to counselors, students to administrator in the country — that is a fact. We are shortchanging all of our kids and have been for many years. PTA, the largest volunteer organization lobbying for children, supports “Our Children, Our Future”.  PTA has been in the trenches advocating for kids — for free — for 115 years –  my vote goes with them.  ourchildrenourfuture2012.com

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  2. @Deb, it’s a great comment, but I wish you wouldn’t post the same one over and over again. I think your advocacy would be more effective if you engaged each article (or set of commenters) with a more tailored response.
     
    One question I have specifically for you and that initiative is well set up by this article, which tells the story of one principal trying to serve two elementary school sites. If the parent, teacher, and community input was that they would like to return to one principal per site, could the PTA initiative money be used to do that?

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  3. I apologize,el, to you and to TopEd, for any repetition.  I will try to be more specific in the future.
    I’m going to answer you question as best I can at this point, but can also look further into it.
    Having one administrator split between two elementary schools, doesn’t sound, to me, like the best way to serve kids.  I see that the district described is pretty small . . .  but still.  The OCOF initiative states in Section 2.6:  “This Act requires that decisions about how best to use new funds to improve our schools must be made not in Sacramento, but locally, with respect for the voices of parents, teachers and community members. It requires local school boards to work with parents, teachers, and community members to decide what is most needed at each particular school.”  So, my impression is that the parents, teachers and community members would communicate with the local school board, through PTA meetings, school site council meetings and school board meetings that there is a need and a desire to allocate money to having one administrator per school.  Now the final decision would rest with the with the school board, BUT section 2.8 states:  “This measure holds local school boards accountable for how they spend new taxpayer money. They are required to explain how expenditures will improve educational outcomes and how they propose to determine whether the expenditures were successful. They will be required to report back on what results were achieved so that parents, teachers, and the community will know whether their money is being used wisely.
    So, communication with parents, teachers and community members coupled with transparency is written into the initiative.  That’s there to help everyone be accountable.
    Now, there also is language re a cap on administrative costs.  Section 2.9 states:  “This Act limits what schools can spend from these new funds on administrative costs to no more than 1 percent and ensures schools may not use these new funds to increase salaries and benefits.”  But depending on the amount of funding a particular school district receives, 1% can turn out to be a workable amount of money.
    I hope that helps answer your question.

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  4. @Deb: thanks. I appreciate your taking the time to address that.

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  5. Hi Deb. I don’t see any way 1% of the amount of money any school will get Would come anywhere close to covering a principal’s salary. In smaller districts or schools not even for one month. What may unofficially happen is the district agreeing to fund it if the site agrees to cover something else. I say unofficially because I don’t think that’s allowed ( though I have yet to find the text in the measure that actually prohibits that.
    Btw, what happens I both mungers and browns initiatives get a majority?  Is the provision for that in the text of the initiative(s)?

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  6. In the most simple form of the math, you’d need to have enough money to hire at least 99 teachers to fund one principal position, and the district in question only has 30 teachers now.
     
    Here’s a situation where the district made choices to keep as much money in the classrooms as possible, and cut other spending to unsustainable levels with the hope that they could last until the money came back. Seems a shame to penalize them for making a choice so consistent with the PTA initiative’s goals.

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  7. WHY are we not tracking teachers who are in their first two years of teaching?  Why is it that they don’t count/matter? If we did, the numbers would be well over 30K already.  Let’s get the real picture here.  It’s distorted employment data, just like people who have run out of unemployment benefits, and very well may not have found work (and lost their houses/couldn’t pay their rent and had to move in with their parents or whatever), but because they are ineligible to receive checks are called “no longer looking for work.”  As if that was possible for most people, who need to eat daily, have student loans there is no way besides death to get out of, etc.

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  8. hi pamzilla. Im not sure including those would make these numbers any more meaningful. Firstly, the impression is that many first and second year teachers have already been laid off, so there may be much fewer of those left. Secondly, these notices dont actually mean anything as it relates to actual layoffs. These will likely only come to fruition if all other budget cut attempts fail (including negotiating furloughs).
    It will be interesting if ‘rheeformers’ ever succeed at destroying tenure because the end result will in fact be that every single teacher in the state would be in this same position every single year.

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  9. @ Pamzella and Navigio, it would be really important to track temporary and probationary teachers if we wanted a complete picture of the labor force. Some points to remember:
     
    1. Although it’s true that there are very few first- and second-year teachers left in California’s teacher workforce, veteran teachers re-enter probationary status whenever they change districts. Such lateral moves (“churning”) are still common.
     
    2. Districts abuse temporary status. By law, a teacher may only be hired under temporary status in uncommon situations: (a) that her class(es) will be dissolved at the end of the first semester, due to reduced enrollment or (b) that more probationary and permanent teachers in her district are on leave than there are temporary teachers to cover the positions. Even intern teachers are not to be classified as temporary. In practice, districts dump new employees (this means new teachers, veteran teachers changing districts, and veteran teachers returning from layoff) into temporary status. Districts like being able to dismiss temporary teachers without cause and without notice. Districts get away with misclassification because even teachers who are aware of the law lack leverage. A prospective temporary teacher who argued for probationary status would simply not be hired.
     
    Between “particular kinds of service” (PKS) layoffs — used to get rid of probationary and permanent teachers; econonically-motivated (and thus illegal) non-reelection of probationary teachers; and misclassification of probationary teachers as temporary teachers, the state and its school districts are creating an unstable and transitory teacher workforce. I imagine that “stewardesses” — shuffled off as soon as they reached 30, gained weight, or got married — felt the same way that California teachers do today.

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