LA Teacher Layoffs- Should They Stay or Should They Go?

We’ve been talking a lot lately about merit pay, what makes a quality teacher, and union/reformer relations. A fight has been brewing in LA for over a week concerning upcoming teacher layoffs. Three groups will be affected by the layoffs. 2,900 support staff, 3,500 teachers with two years or less district time, and 2,000 certified elementary teaching jobs are on the chopping block. Huge gaps in the budget, $718 million to be precise, are the cause for these terminations.

“This is all bad, for teachers, for students, for everybody… but we have to be fiscally responsible,” said board member Terry Ragins. I don’t how how California state budgets function, but here in Maine the budget must be balanced. We cannot run a deficit. Perhaps this forces their hand in cuts. In that case there is no way to make everyone happy. If they weren’t cutting education it would be environmental or health care or something people would be upset about.

Teachers in the LA district staged a protest at a recent school board meeting to voice their concerns.

from Counter Punch

Some people say that what we are doing today is improper. Was it improper when they did it in the civil rights movement? Was it improper when César Chávez used civil disobedience to force Gallo wine to meet the demands of the field workers? Isn’t this how India won its independence from the British Empire? In fact, this whole country that we love was born out of civil disobedience!

Then, each of the teachers present took turns standing up and explaining what would happen at their schools if the cuts went through. Gym teachers who have used their own paychecks to buy volleyballs, teachers with more than 40 students in remediation classes, and a cohort from a social justice academy at a large high school, afraid to lose the energy, drive and innovation of their newest teachers–all told their stories. Teachers made it clear that layoffs resulting in larger class sizes will be a disaster for students.

Since we had the boardroom occupied, we used the opportunity to debate strategies, tactics and the next actions we could take to escalate the fight and involve more parents and teachers. Afterwards, we joined a support rally outside. Students from three prominent high schools had organized a bus to bring them to the pro cctest. The action drew widespread coverage in the local media.

The LA Times editorial page this morning features opinions from both sides of the issue.
First one former teacher and president of the Teacher’s Empowerment Network questions why teachers should always be protected from firings.

from LA Times

In all honesty, it is certainly possible that some teachers will have to be let go. Although no one would diminish the seriousness of a job loss, we must be realistic. Our state is in dire financial straits — why should teachers be a protected class? This is especially true in light of the following inconvenient fact: In 2003-04, the LAUSD had 747,009 students in its system, and those students were taught by 36,180 teachers. By 2007-08, the student population had shrunk 7%, to 693,680, but the teaching force had decreased only about 1%, to 35,785. In 2003-04, the student/teacher ratio was 20.64 students per teacher. In 2007-08, it was 19.38 students per teacher. If we went back to the 20.64 ratio of 2003-04, we would need only 33,597 teachers — 2,000 fewer teachers than we have now. (Unions hate the thought of fewer teachers — it means less money in the form of dues for them).

A very troubling aspect of the layoff scenario is that if teachers are let go, it will be done by seniority. This means that an ineffective teacher on the job for three years gets to keep his or her job over a wonderful teacher who has been on the job for two years. This would be damaging to kids and devastating to the laid-off teachers, many of whom would seek out new professions. But the unions don’t seem to care about teacher quality as much as longevity.

This archaic system is exacerbated by the tenure or “permanence” scheme insisted on by the unions. Under this set-up, once a teacher has been in a school for two years, he is essentially given a job for life. Getting rid of bad teachers is almost impossible. If we could dismiss poor teachers instead of being forced to keep them, the system would improve greatly. The next time a union official starts talking about “the children,” please ask why the union insists on this system, which clearly does not benefit children.

In Los Angeles, we have some of the highest-paid teachers in the U.S. — most of whom have a world-class health plan in a state whose economy is falling apart, where the unemployment rate tops 10% and whose citizens are already among the most taxed in the country — whining about the possibility that a few jobs may be lost.

It is unfair to paint all teachers with the union brush. But it would behoove those who dissent from the UTLA and CTA party line to let their union know how they feel, and perhaps seek alternatives.

The LA School District must layoff teaching staff. At this point it seems unavoidable. If there is not enough money to go around what other choice do they have? If they must let some teachers go why base it on seniority. That is my major issue, and Larry Sand’s who wrote this piece, with the layoffs. Good teachers will be shoved out the door with poor. Common sense would say this procedure will do much more harm than taking the time to judge who will be let go. If this is about fiscal responsibility then we should also be responsible with our cuts. LA should not just be striving for a smaller budget, but smarter allocations of money.

The next op-ed asks LA to invest in the teaching force.

from LA Times

This year 9,000 “precautionary” pink slips went out to teachers and other school district employees –cafeteria workers, truck drivers and others who make a difference in our kids’ lives — to warn them they may not be hired back next year. Whether or not the layoffs happen, the notices are likely to cause some of the LAUSD’s best and brightest young teachers to leave the profession.

It’s all the sadder because this time the pink slips were sent out at the very same time President Obama came to town to deliver a message of hope. His plan to stimulate the economy includes education funding, and the LAUSD could receive more than $1 billion from the package.

The money is intended as a stimulus, not as a hedge against future needs. It needs to be spent quickly, and it needs to be spent saving jobs.

As 26 members of Congress wrote in a letter to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and state education officials, the money is intended in part “to minimize or avoid harmful cuts to education programs and services” and “to keep teachers in the classroom.” The stated goals of the legislation are job retention, job creation and targeted investment in education.

Federal stimulus funds will not give local school districts the long-term financial stability they need and deserve. But they will give schools the opportunity to plan how to transform themselves to better meet the 21st century needs of children without the immediate threat of economic collapse.

Let’s say you are not well off. You have a lot of debt and are living life check by check. You win the lottery. Not enough to quit your job, but enough to take care of your debt, fix your car up, maybe update your kitchen. Instead you by a boat, flat-screen and surround sound, a new car, and take several trips to tropical locals, dropping copious sums of money along the way. You get home to find your bills are still stacked up and you can’t even hope to afford the running expenses of your boat let alone the insurance. Bet you would wish you were a little more responsible with that cash.

Before I get hate mail I’ll be clear, teachers are not a frivolous expense. Obviously retaining good teachers should be a priority. Maintaining and updating technology and facilities to acceptable levels should also be taken into consideration. This money will not last. If we don’t look to the future, as well as examine our present needs, the problems will still be there down the line. If all the money is spent on teacher retention, budgets will become larger. Teachers will still be cut, likely more cuts than they are asking for now. I said this a couple of weeks ago when Dunc released his education stimulus package.

It is sad and unfortunate that anyone would have to loose their job. In order to save future jobs we need these cuts. If all of the stimulus money is spent now, there will be a greater call in the future.

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