By Rick Rojas, Los Angeles Times | http://lat.ms/gvlIfw
Susan Gosman, president of the L.A. chapter of the California School Employees Assn., rallies workers outside the Los Angeles Unified School District headquarters to protest the layoffs and job transfers of those who staff school offices, run libraries and maintain campuses. (Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times / November 30, 2010)
December 1, 2010 - More than a thousand Los Angeles Unified School District employees — including those who staff school offices, run libraries and maintain campuses — will be without jobs Wednesday amid the latest round of budget reductions this year in the nation's second-largest school district.
Thousands of others will be shifted to new workplaces, with some taking positions with less pay and fewer hours. L.A. Unified officials said no teachers are included in this round, but that the reductions and reassignments affect 4,700 employees in various classified positions.
Since June, about 6,100 employees have either lost their jobs or have been shifted into new ones, according to the district. Wednesday's moves are, by far, the largest, amounting to almost 77% of the reduction-related personnel changes made in 2010.
Those leaving the district, or at least their school, say the changes are a stinging blow to campus communities, with the staff members who best know the ins and outs of a campus and its student population forced to leave.
"I know every kid's name. I know their parents, their siblings," said Carole Koneff, a library aide at Third Street Elementary. She first arrived at the school when her own children were enrolled, and her volunteering turned into a 30-hour-per-week job running the library.
"You're part of the DNA of the school, you're part of the makeup," she said.
Koneff lacked the seniority to stay at her school. She was offered a 15-hour-per-week job at a school farther away from her home, but she turned it down. "I can't afford a 50% pay cut," she said.
Jaime Escarzaga, a plant manager at South Region Middle School No. 2, said he will be taking a pay cut and a demotion after being reassigned to an elementary school.
Among the more than a hundred protesters at the district headquarters Tuesday, he said the transfer was particularly stinging in that he had helped open that school, and put his "sweat and heart" into it.
"They are going to say that we just push a broom, but we do a lot more than that," said the 14-year district veteran. "We take pride in our work. We make sure the students are safe in their schools."
"And we know who belongs there and who doesn't," added Jesus Gomez, a plant manager being transferred from Sierra Vista Elementary to San Antonio Elementary. He was carrying a thick stack of letters of crayon drawings and words of gratitude from students.
The employees, particularly the library aides, also have lashed out at district administrators. The group created an online message board to vent that frustration, and Koneff, who said she's prone to writing letters to air her grievances, has been complaining via e-mail to Supt. Ramon C. Cortines.
Koneff told Cortines that she dreaded telling the students she was leaving, and implored him to admit these reductions were a mistake. Cortines responded to her final e-mail in November.
"There are guidelines and regulations involving seniority that must be adhered to by law," Cortines said in the e-mail. (The district confirmed its veracity.) Unless school officials are able to facilitate a trade, Cortines added, "there is nothing that anyone can do."
In this round of shuffling, 996 employees were laid off, and 27 others were "separated," meaning that they were "at-will employees" who lost their jobs, said Lydia Ramos, a district spokeswoman. Another 2,040 employees were shifted into new positions at the same pay grade, and about 1,600 were bumped into positions with a lower classification or given fewer working hours.
School board member Steve Zimmer credits the unions for implementing protections that prevented the layoffs from being far more widespread.
"It's a fair system," Zimmer said. "The problem with the system is it was built for hiring, assignments and promotions, and not for mass-scale layoffs."
Barbara Jane Harpe, a library aide at Menlo Elementary, filed a complaint against the district through her union, the California School Employees Assn. The district reassigned Harpe to a school in Tujunga — a two-hour drive from her home, which, she said, her doctor told her she can't make every day because of medical issues.
It would have been her second reassignment in just over a year. She was transferred to Menlo in October 2009. She started as a library aide in 1996 at President Avenue Elementary, where she was a volunteer in the library while her children were in school.
Harpe said she's awaiting the outcome of her grievance. Despite low pay and frustrating employers, she said she's reluctant to leave a job that she finds rewarding.
"This sounds so corny … the library is where the heart of the school is," Harpe said. "It's where everyone drifts to. Teachers and kids would come in and talk to me, and tell me their problems. It's an odd job, but it's really important to me."