By Jonathan Dobrer | OpEd in the Daily News
04/07/2009 — The mission of the Los Angeles Unified School District is to educate our children. It's a hard job with so many people, languages and cultures.
It's even harder when the money dries up and new teachers are pink-slipped, which is what has happened this spring. Now LAUSD faces a brain drain of enthusiastic new teachers and is creating a disincentive for talented young people to choose the "calling" of teaching because of the layoff policy.
One of the major challenges in reforming LAUSD involves the seniority system - which I feel free to criticize even though my wife was both a teacher and a union representative. Seniority is more complicated than it seems.
When LAUSD lays off teachers by seniority, good teachers and new teachers are let go - and that might be unavoidable. But what's worse is that many of them will be replaced by people who haven't been in a classroom for years.
When LAUSD officials say that they are trimming the bureaucracy by nearly 30 percent, they do not say that many of their administrators and bureaucrats have a right to return to the classrooms they voluntarily left - some many years ago.
Their time out of the classroom goes toward their seniority. Therefore, they have a right to return to a classroom with seniority that does not correspond to years spent actually teaching children. Not so for the motivated teachers who taught in charter schools; their years in those classrooms don't count. This is crazy!
Who would you rather have teaching our children - someone who piled up years doing work, that may be important work that was not in the classroom, or someone who spent years teaching?
LAUSD will lay off teachers if it must, but it should change the policy so that charter schools count and more than the years in administrative offices. Only years actually teaching should be calculated in placing or retaining teachers. Of course, all years should count toward retirement and pensions but not advancement in the "calling" that is good teaching.
Jonathan Dobrer, a professor of comparative religion at the American Jewish University in Bel-Air, blogs at insidesocal.com/friendlyfire. This column is excerpted from one of his blog posts.