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.
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.
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 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.”