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Calif.'s 4th year of teacher layoffs spur concerns

Associated Press Published: May 5, 2012

Next school year, districts face additional midyear cuts if voters do not approve tax initiatives that would boost state revenue.

The uncertainty creates tumult in schools.

"It's hard for teachers to keep up the energy we need in the classroom," said Veronica Melvin, executive director of LA's Promise, which runs three LAUSD schools.

Partnership for Los Angeles Schools, a nonprofit organization that runs 15 LAUSD schools, last year started an outreach project to pink-slipped teachers after seeing morale devastated year after year.

Teams hold after-school informational meetings for pink-slipped teachers, who this year number 153, and staffers comb through each teacher's file to find credentials that could exempt them from layoff, such as qualifications to teach multiple subjects and ages, or help them get those credentials, or file appeals. They 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."


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