Calif.'s 4th year of teacher layoff warnings spur concerns
LOS ANGELES (AP) — Los Angeles Unified teacher Mike Newman sighed when he saw the now familiar certified letter in his mailbox last month - a pink slip, for the fourth year in a row.
"Here we go again," said Newman, a 14-year classroom veteran who's had his previous three layoffs rescinded and hopes for the same this year.
"We keep thinking it'll get better sooner or later, but it's not."
A new term is being bandied about in California schools these days - "the RIFing season," which refers to the "reduction in force" letters notifying teachers they may be laid off at the end of the school year.
Some want the annual practice, which gives teachers advance notice that their jobs are in jeopardy depending on the outcome of the state budget debate, changed because it unnecessarily saps morale and incurs administrative expenses since most of those employees will not be laid off.
School districts sent out 20,000 warning notices in March - the fourth consecutive year of mass cuts due to continued state funding shortfalls, but if the past three years are anything to go by, roughly a quarter of those teachers will actually lose their jobs.
"This is a process that doesn't need to be happening," said Warren Fletcher, president of United Teachers Los Angeles, the teachers union for the Los Angeles Unified School District where 9,500 educators received layoff notices in March. "This is a quarter of our teachers. The district couldn't operate without a quarter of its teachers. They never should've issued that number."
Los Angeles schools try to keep talented but discouraged teachers from moving out of state or leaving the profession.
"I've seen teachers who have cried," said Phyllis Bradford, senior director of human resources. "Others have moved out of state, gone back to school. It's a very depressing time."
The process is also costly. The Legislative Analyst's Office calculated that districts spent $14 million on administrative costs last year, about $700 per noticed teacher, including sending notices by certified mail and appeal hearings before an administrative law judge. The Legislative Analyst's Office suggested the hearings be replaced by a review by an administrative law judge.
The Legislative Analyst's Office also recommended the layoff notification date be pushed back to May 15, with Aug.1 as the final layoff date. Districts also should be allowed to lay off employees on an emergency basis throughout the year, it said.
So far, efforts to change the dates have gone nowhere.
In February, Assemblyman Marty Block, D-San Diego, prepared a bill at the behest of the San Diego Unified School District to push the layoff notification deadline to June 15 and final layoffs to Aug. 15, but the bill died after failing to muster support from the California Teachers Association.
Block said he doesn't foresee further impetus in Sacramento to change the laws.
"My hope is we won't have to worry so much about pink slip dates because we won't have pink slips," he said. "We want to focus on turning around the economy."
California Teacher Association President Dean Vogel said changing dates won't help the teachers who are laid off and need time to prepare. Instead, the teachers union is throwing its muscle into a November ballot initiative, the Schools and Local Public Safety Protection Act, that would raise taxes on the wealthy to restore funding to schools, as well as police and fire services.
"The solution is to get more money into the general fund," he said.
In the meantime, teacher frustration is growing.
Some see the layoff notices as a negotiating ploy by districts to get teachers to sign off on pay cuts.
"It's really a game to get us to agree to furlough days," said Brooke Wilkerson, an instructional coach at a San Fernando Valley elementary school who's on her fourth pink slip.
Christine Aguilar, an eight-year Los Angeles elementary school teacher who's received pink slips for three years in a row, fears the seniority list is catching up to her as more junior employees are laid off each year.
"Every year, I think `will this be the year I'm not rescinded? Will it be my turn?" she said. "This is just hanging over me."