Thursday, October 29, 2009


By Larry Sand | Op-Ed in the LA Daily News

10/20 -- MUCH has been written about the "deal with the devil" made by Los Angeles Unified School District Superintendent Ramon Cortines and United Teachers of Los Angeles President A.J. Duffy. It seems that Cortines and Duffy met in July to discuss the fate of about 2,000 teachers laid off in June due to the budget crisis.

Because the system is based on seniority, the newest hires were the first to lose their full-time classroom positions. Concerned about losing these young teachers to other professions entirely, Cortines made the infamous deal with Duffy.

It stipulates that the recently laid-off teachers would be given priority as substitutes over the system's existing 6,000 permanent day-to-day substitutes regardless of seniority. The regular subs screamed foul, claiming that Duffy went outside the contract and sold them out.

They insisted that they were valuable members of the educational community and had families to feed. (Additionally, health insurance is a major concern for subs. If a sub doesn't work at least one day a month and hundred days for the school year, they will lose their health insurance benefits.)

Duffy countered by saying that by retaining the newest hires as subs, there would be a greater likelihood for them to remain in the system and not look for work elsewhere. He also said that it would benefit children at hard-to-staff schools because the newly laid-off teachers might find full-time work at the same schools they worked at last year, which would help provide continuity for the children.

But on Oct. 7, the UTLA House of Representatives met and overwhelmingly rejected the Cortines-Duffy deal. Duffy said he would abide by the wishes of the union's governing body, but that since he could not unilaterally void a signed contract, the union would have to reopen negotiations with LAUSD.

It's anyone's guess as to how this situation will be resolved.

To be sure, it is painful for anyone to lose a job, but the truth is that someone has to go. Absent the contract, it would seem that Mr.Duffy's rationale is correct here. While some substitute teachers do rely on subbing as their sole source of income, many are musicians, writers, or mothers who want a part-time job.

As such, it seems much more beneficial to hold on to 2,000 fresh-faced teachers who are trying to make education their career. The budget crisis won't last forever, and if these 2,000 teachers succeed at finding jobs in another field, we could end up with a severe teacher shortage in the not-too-distant future.

I worked as a teacher in Los Angeles for 24 years, seven of those as a substitute in the worst schools LAUSD has to offer. As such, I have great sympathy for people who wake up in the morning and go into daunting situations that few would dare face.

While Mr. Duffy should be commended for his decision, it is important to note that rarely are children considered when seniority issues are debated. Children are left behind as incidental parties or annoyances in arguments between grown-ups.

Our children deserve the best teachers. As such, the seniority system must be abolished. If each school could hire and keep the teachers that their school really needs, this whole state of affairs would have been avoided.

Yes, some teachers would still lose their jobs, but the students would at least be taught by the best available teachers. It's time that educators and teachers' unions stopped putting themselves and their needs ahead of those of the children. In a city with hundreds of failing schools and an astronomical dropout rate, do we really have a choice?

Larry Sand, a classroom teacher in Los Angeles and New York for more than 28 years, is the president of the California Teachers Empowerment Network (

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