Thursday, October 07, 2010


Teachers union may fight LAUSD settlement

EDUCATION: Seniority is among the concerns voiced by UTLA over deal reached by school district.

By Connie Llanos and Rick Orlov, Staff Writers | LA Daily News |

10/07/2010 07:55:37 PM PDT -- The Los Angeles teachers union said Wednesday it is considering whether to challenge a landmark legal settlement that would end the practice of laying off educators at Los Angeles Unified based on seniority.

The proposed settlement, announced Tuesday, was reached after a group of civil-rights lawyers sued the district, claiming that budget cuts and massive teacher layoffs had created chaos for students at three inner-city middle schools. The deal still has to be approved by a judge.

A.J. Duffy, president of United Teachers Los Angeles, said he was concerned that the deal could lead to several unintended consequences, such as concentrating more inexperienced teachers at lower-performing schools.

"When the district makes a long-term policy that is detrimental to students we are obligated to challenge that policy," Duffy said.

While UTLA was not initially sued by the group, district officials later asked that the teachers union and the Mayor's Partnership for Schools be included as defendants.

Union officials would not say exactly what legal action they plan to take, but stressed they have concerns about several elements of the tentative deal, which would protect up to 45 local schools from suffering any teacher layoffs during budget cuts.

The tentative deal would also cap the number of teachers that can be laid off from any one campus so that no school loses more teachers than the district average, and it would mandate a study of incentive pay at some schools.

Duffy also said the union was not informed of the deal until after it had been brokered.

"The problem starts with a growing pattern of leaving teachers out of the debate," Duffy said.

"The school board and district officials claim that they want teachers to be a part of the solution, but how can we be a part of the solution when we are not even part of the conversation?"

Catherine Lhamon, director of impact litigation at Public Counsel Law Center, one of the three groups that filed the lawsuit, was disappointed to hear the union's statements.

"If UTLA believes it has to stand in the way of delivering fundamental equal educational opportunities to students ... UTLA will do what it needs to do," Lhamon said.

"But I am confident that the justice this settlement proposal represents will be delivered to Los Angeles students."

Despite the potential legal battles the deal might face, local officials touted the significance of the settlement Wednesday.

"For those of us who have been leading the charge for education reform, this is a landmark settlement," Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said Wednesday.

"I believe this will impact schools not only in the Los Angeles Unified District, but schools across the nation. We have proven, once again, that our partnership schools are the catalyst for change."

Although Villaraigosa's Partnership for Schools was a defendant in the suit because two of the three middle schools are run by the group, the mayor has expressed his support of the lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, Public Counsel and the law firm of Morrison and Foerster.

Villaraigosa, whose partnership includes some 20,000 students, said some of his schools were losing up to 60 percent of their teachers.

The mayor's positions on this issue puts him at odds with an organization for which he once worked.

"I did work for them for eight years and, I've said many times, I want to collaborate with UTLA," Villaraigosa said. "I believe in the cause of teachers. They have a really tough job.

"But, I also believe the system is broken and one of the broken parts that has been absolutely ignored is the layoffs and disproportionate impact on low-performing schools."

Councilman Jose Huizar, who formerly served as president of the Board of Education, called the agreement an important step for education.

"One of the most critical components of how children get an education is through their teacher," Huizar said. "What this does is address one of the most important aspects, the quality of the teacher."

Still, LAUSD Superintendent Ramon Cortines said he suggested several changes to the original deal being pitched by the civil rights groups that wanted to erode all uses of seniority during layoffs.

"Seniority should not be done away with. People need protection from capricious superintendents and boards of education," he said.

As written now, the deal will grant the district some flexibility, but won't strip teachers of protections, Cortines said.

"This is a step in the right direction," Cortines said.


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