By George B. Sánchez and Connie Llanos, Staff Writers | LA Newspaper Group/Daily News
03/11/2009 -- Waving signs and chanting, "We won't let you cut our future," hundreds of teachers, parents and students protested Tuesday outside of LAUSD headquarters after the school board voted to send layoff warnings to nearly 9,000 employees.
More than 200 educators wore red T-shirts that symbolized their allegiance to United Teachers Los Angeles during the 45-minute rally at Fourth and Boylston streets. Many carried signs reading "Students lose when we lose" as passing motorists honked in support.
"Students and teachers need to unite to rally and protest, to put pressure on the board and prevent these cuts," said Edin Barrientos, 17, one of 60 Crenshaw High students who joined the rally.
But officials with the nation's second-largest school district said they need to make the cuts to help close an estimated $718million budget gap.
"Given the state of the economy, we don't have any other options," Superintendent Ramon Cortines said.
If district officials cannot find other ways to erase the deficit, actual layoff notices could be sent by June 30 - the deadline for alerting staff that they won't have jobs in the fall.
During the board meeting itself, dozens of teachers flooded the meeting room. The board halted the session after a series of rowdy interruptions led by UTLA President A.J. Duffy and were ushered into a police-protected room where they carried out the vote.
Teachers, who stayed behind chanted, "Let us speak ... Shame on you," as the board left the room.
In the first of three separate votes covering the issue, the seven-member board voted unanimously to send warnings to administrators and counselors.
About 2,900 employees, 90 percent of whom work in schools, will be affected.
A 5-2 vote, with Julie Korenstein and Richard Vladovic dissenting, affirmed the decision to notify 3,500 "nonpermanent" teachers - those who have been with the district two years or less.
And in a 4-l vote, with Korenstein dissenting and Vladovic and Marguerite LaMotte abstaining, the board voted to send layoff notices to roughly 2,000 permanent, certificated elementary teachers.
Meanwhile, protesting teachers remained in the boardroom, where they shared stories of overcrowded classrooms and denounced the board vote.
"I had 48 students in one class at the beginning of the school year," said Kay Aston, an English teacher at Mount Gleason Middle School. "What do they want to do with these cuts? Give me 68 students in a class that I'll have to lecture in an auditorium? Kids don't learn that way."
During the discussion, the board sought clarification on "bumping rights," which would allow more senior employees to be reassigned to the classroom.
Cortines said that to address the issue, legislation would be needed, with union support, to allow job performance to take precedent over seniority.
"People need protections, but there needs to be accountability," Cortines said.
Visibly tired Tuesday afternoon, Cortines said in an earlier interview that the prospect of laying off teachers is taken its toll on him even after four decades in education.
"I was at a school in the Valley the other day talking with a group of teachers - all first-, second-year teachers," Cortines said during a recent interview.
"They were all so enthusiastic and it was hard for me to talk to them knowing that I'd be recommending layoffs. My nights have definitely gotten shorter."
Still, teachers union officials say Cortines can cut more bureaucracy before firing a single teacher.
"We are going to do whatever is necessary to stop this layoff action," said teacher's union president Duffy.
While the district will see funds from the federal stimulus package, Megan Reilly, LAUSD's chief financial officer, said she did not expect to use the one-time allotment to fend off teacher layoffs.
"We know this money is not enough to fill the hole," Reilly said.
"If we use this money to plug a hole and we don't restructure, we'll be here two years from now, again, looking at the same problem and asking what do we do."
To raise more money, the district is considering plans to push for a parcel tax in 2010.
The board also approved offering early retirement incentives, which would offset the number of potential layoffs. District officials will return in April with a number of staff willing to retire early.
In the meantime, Duffy said, he would look into whether the board violated the Brown Act by meeting in seclusion.
He also told union members to go back to their schools and "tell people what happened today."
Demonstrators concluded with the chant: "We'll be back."
Board has moved to secret, undisclosed location.
from the UTLA website:
Showdown at the School Board
With the livelihood of thousands of our members on the line, UTLA took over the School Board meeting today to try to stop the Board from approving almost 6,000 layoff notices.
More than 40 UTLA members were threatened with arrest after refusing to leave the meeting. The members had volunteered to engage in nonviolent civil disobedience.
"When thousands of jobs are threatened, we can't stand idly by," UTLA President A.J. Duffy said. "In the end it's our students who will pay the price if we lose thousands of teachers. Class sizes will balloon, and student learning will suffer."
As the Board room remained occupied by UTLA, School Board members fled to a nearby room and eventually voted to issue reduction in force (RIF) notices to almost 6,000 nonpermanent teachers, health and human services professionals and permanent certificated elementary teachers.
Permanent teachers must receive RIF notices by March 15. Nonpermanent teachers need only be given 14 days notice. A RIF notice does not mean a layoff is certain. School districts often issue more notices than needed. LAUSD says it will issue final layoff notices for permanent teachers by May 15.
The fight isn't over! UTLA will continue fighting the layoffs, both in layoff hearings and in the streets. So far, LAUSD has refused to apply the federal stimulus money to the budget, which, by our calculations, would save 5,000 jobs or more. UTLA will be holding a press conference Friday morning at Miguel Contreras Learning Center, which stands to lose 40% of its teachers to layoffs.