By Connie Llanos, Staff Writer | LA Daily News
Teachers place signs which represents a laid-off teacher on a chair outside the LAUSD District Headquarters in Los Angeles Monday, March 15, 2010. Los Angeles-area teachers held an "Empty Chair Speak-Out" by placing 2826 empty chairs in front of the LAUSD District Headquarters, one for each teacher and health and human services professional that the LAUSD is threatening to layoff next school year. (Andy Holzman/Staff Photographer)
Signs are placed on chairs outside the LAUSD District Headquarters in Los Angeles on Monday, March 15, 2010. (Andy Holzman/Staff Photographer)
3/16/2009 -- Dramatizing the impact of looming layoffs, teachers placed nearly 3,000 empty chairs over an entire city block in front of L.A. Unified headquarters Monday, each seat representing a classroom instructor, nurse or counselor facing job cuts.
The elaborate scene was set up to mark the legal deadline for all teachers and school support staff to receive preliminary notification if there job is at risk for the following school year. Statewide some 22,000 pink slips were mailed out to educators by Monday, including nearly 2,300 teachers, and 600 nurses, counselors and librarians at Los Angeles Unified School District. “After 6 years of being dedicated to my job, 180 days a year, rain or shine, with paper and supplies or not, they are going to tell me I cannot teach... why?” asked Trinidad Hernandez, a fifth-grade teacher at Sunny Brae Avenue Elementary School, who received her pink slip notice late last week.
“They gave me a job and I have done magic with it... it’s just not right.” Like school districts in Oakland, Burbank, and Long Beach, Los Angeles Unified officials said the budget crisis has left them with no choice but to increase class sizes and eliminate workers to keep local schools financially solvent. Currently, LAUSD is facing a budget gap of some $640 million for the 2010-11 school year. With fewer teachers, class sizes are expected to rise.
For example, kindergarten through third-grade classes will grow to 29 students and middle school classes will grow to 44 students. Cuts also call for the virtual elimination of school nurses and librarians, deep cuts to arts education programs and counselors could be left overseeing up to 1,000 students each. “It is a very somber occasion when nearly 22,000 educators are notified that they may be terminated,” said State Superintendent Jack O’Connell. “It hurts schools and it hurts communities.”
Along with the effects that layoffs will have next year, the notices ring in a season of anxiety for school workers who must wait and see if their jobs will be preserved next year. Traditionally, notices are sent out to all school workers that could be laid off — even though many times a majority or all pink slips are rescinded as district officials tinker with budgets to avoid cutting staff. Last year, more than 26,000 pink slips were sent out statewide to teachers and 16,000 were laid off. This year though it is expected that more teachers and school workers will be laid off, since district officials say they have no more areas left to cut. Vivian Ekchian, LAUSD’s chief human resource officer, said last year only one out of four teachers who received pink slips were actually released.
But she noted that last year, the district had federal stimulus money. This year they do not. At this point, Ekchian said the only way school positions will be saved is if employee unions agree to take paycuts and furloughs to help cut costs. “It is not too late to save these jobs,” Ekchian said. “Together we can make a decision that allows us to save positions... it requires shared sacrifice but it maintains stability at school sites, reduces class sizes and preserves our workforce.”
Currently LAUSD officials are asking all employees to consider taking 12 furlough days — in the form of cutting back the school year a week this year and next - and a 10 percent paycut to avoid losing jobs. Labor leaders though argue that district officials still have to prove that all possible cuts outside of the schools have been made before they can ask school workers to take paycuts, including the elimination of all outside contract professionals and unnecessary programs and administrators. “The most important thing is keeping the classroom and school site whole,” said A.J. Duffy, president of United Teachers Los Angeles.
Duffy stressed that district officials should also not only focus on what employees are willing to sacrifice but on pushing state officials to increase funding for education. “There needs to be a steady stream of funding for education from Sacramento not this crazy up and down every year,” Duffy added.
Over the last two years, lawmakers have slashed some $18 billion from California’s K-12 schools and community colleges, leaving the state last in the nation in per-pupil spending and last in teacher- and administrator-to-student ratios.
This year, despite claims from Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger that schools would not see new cuts, the state budget keeps school funding at the heavily slashed rates of last year. Without stimulus money, school officials say they will feel the hit harder. However H.D. Palmer, spokesman for the State Department of Finance, said that at a time when the state is facing a nearly $20 billion budget deficit, and when deep cuts are being proposed elsewhere in social services, schools have received the best deal the governor could draft.
“There are others who say they want us to provide more money and the governor would like to do that, and as soon as legislators send other reductions we can take, on top of what has been proposed to increase education we will take a look at it,” Palmer said. In the meantime though, teachers like Hernandez must continue teaching their students and preparing them for high stakes state tests in the spring, while they wonder if they’ll have a job to come back to next fall. Hernandez said as far as she is concerned, her students will not notice the difference in their teacher’s classroom energy.
“I have told them at the start of every year that in Room 36 their dreams can come true... I still have that job to do,” Hernandez said, wiping tears. “That doesn’t mean that when the bell rings and I go home I don’t cry... but they don’t have to know that.”
Teachers place signs on chairs outside the LAUSD District Headquarters in Los Angeles, CA Monday March 15, 2010. Los Angeles-area teachers held an "Empty Chair Speak-Out" by placing 2826 empty chairs in front of the LAUSD District Headquarters, one for each teacher and health and human services professional that the LAUSD is threatening to layoff next school year.(Andy Holzman/Staff Photographer) (ANDY HOLZMAN)