By George B. Sanchez, Staff Writer | LA DAILY NEWS
6 Jan 09 -- Eyeing an ever-widening budget gap, Los Angeles Unified School District officials said Monday they could soon send nearly 3,000 nonpermanent teachers notices warning of imminent layoffs.
While it has become standard policy in recent years for the district to send layoff notices as a precautionary measure, teachers union officials and administrators fear this is the first time since widespread layoffs of the mid-1990s that teachers could actually lose their jobs.
"This is not a favored option, but under the current fiscal crisis, we have to consider it," said Vivian Ekchian, LAUSD's interim chief human resources officer.
Unlike permanent teachers, who must be notified in March if they will not have a job in the upcoming school year, nonpermanent teachers -- those who have worked for two years or fewer -- must be given only two weeks notification before being fired.
Still, Superintendent Ramon Cortines said the notifications do not guarantee that teachers will lose their jobs.
"I'm just being very cautious," Cortines said.
The district will first look at 2,290 nonpermanent teachers who have the least seniority and who teach elementary school and secondary school English and math, according to a report prepared for the board. Potential layoffs would also target interns and provisional teachers, who have not passed their final exams in the subjects they teach.
United Teachers Los Angeles spokeswoman Marla Eby said the notices could just be protocol, but warned that in the current economic environment, they must be taken very seriously.
"This is the beginning," Eby said, noting that regular teachers will also likely get similar notices within two months.
The school board will consider the matter at its first meeting of the year on Jan. 13. District officials say the layoffs can be avoided if money can be found from the state. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger sent a proposed budget deal to lawmakers last week that seeks to close a nearly $15 billion gap. Unless lawmakers can agree on a plan, state finance officials say state coffers could be out of cash by February.
If the LAUSD board votes to send the notices and layoffs are made, union leaders say it will almost certainly bring about bigger class sizes and threaten the steady improvements made in recent years in reducing the dropout rate and improving standardized test scores.
Based on an average cost per teacher of $60,000, including salary and benefits, laying off 2,290 teachers would save the district more than $137 million over a full year, said Megan Reilly, LAUSD's chief financial officer. But since the cuts would be mid-year, she explained, the savings would be no more than $68.5million and possibly as low as a quarter the yearly figure, or $34.2million.
These cuts would be part of an estimated $400 million in cuts the district will likely have to make soon as the district enters the midway point of its 2008-09 school year budget. They come on top of $472 million the district slashed from the 2008-09 budget before the start of the current school year.
Also, at least $200 million in cuts are expected for the 2009-10 school year.
So far, the state budget crisis has halted funding for district art programs. The number of meals for poor students will likely be slashed from 100 million meals to 55 million annually. State-mandated limits on classroom sizes for first through third grades could grow from 20 to 37.
Teachers are used to receiving layoff notices in the new year as a possible cost-saving measure, said UTLA President A.J. Duffy.
"At this point, it's a procedural issue in order for the district to move ahead," Duffy said. "Do we believe it'll happen? We have no way of knowing."
While the 2,290 positions represent a fraction of the district's 37,000 teachers, they are more than a third of the district's 5,700 non-permanent teachers.
Duffy said the cuts would hurt gains in graduation rates and achievement on state and federal standardized tests. Before the district lays off teachers, he said, the district should cut its use of outside consultants and shed bureaucrats at district headquarters.
Layoffs for any group of teachers is worrisome, said one teacher at Cleveland High School in Van Nuys.
"It's really stressful," said Coleen Bondy, who is in her third year of teaching English and journalism. "I love my job. I worked hard to be a teacher. It would be really hard to get laid off."
She also said many teachers don't seem to understand the gravity of the state budget crisis, noting talk in lounges and hallways is of strikes instead of layoffs.
"I don't think people understand the magnitude of the state budget crisis," she said. "I've never heard the state say it'll run out of money."