Lawyers representing students' interests hail the ruling; the teachers union says it
probably will appeal.
By Jason Felch and Jason Song, Los Angeles Times | http://lat.ms/i51oKm
January 21, 2011, 7:59 p.m. - In a case that pits the constitutional rights of students against the job protections of teachers, a Los Angeles County Superior Court judge approved a groundbreaking settlement Friday that limits the effect of layoffs on the district's most vulnerable students.
Up to 45 Los Angeles Unified School District campuses will be shielded from teacher layoffs altogether, Judge William F. Highberger ordered Friday, and layoffs in the district's other 750 schools must be spread more equitably. That could lead some experienced teachers to lose their jobs.
The decision comes amid deep education cuts and a debate over teacher tenure rules, which are being challenged across the country. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie recently called for the end of tenure, as have leaders in Florida, Idaho, Wyoming and elsewhere.
"This year, if we are forced to lay off teachers, we will be forced to lay off some of the most effective, and keep some of the least effective," New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg said in a speech this week. "It's not right. It's not fair. And it's not something we can allow to happen."
Locally, L.A. Unified faces a nearly $400-million shortfall that could force thousands more teachers out of the classroom this year.
Lawyers representing district students hailed the judge's ruling as a "landmark victory" that put the interests of children ahead of their instructors.
"The court today handed these children an umbrella in a hurricane," said Mark Rosenbaum, legal director for the Los Angeles office of the American Civil Liberties Union which, along with Public Counsel and several other public interest law firms, brought the suit on behalf of students.
Representatives of United Teachers Los Angeles, which vigorously opposed the settlement in court, said the teachers union will probably appeal the order, which "eviscerates seniority" and will damage the morale of district teachers.
"We do not agree with the remedy that the court is mandating," said Julie Washington, a union vice president.
Washington and other union leaders have said the district needs to find a way to better train instructors and administrators and help students from impoverished backgrounds.
The settlement is an attempt to address a problem all parties recognize: the devastating effect that layoffs have had on district campuses in recent years. Some schools have lost as much as 50% of their teaching staffs to cutbacks, unraveling some reform efforts and causing turmoil at already struggling campuses.
A Times investigation last year found that seniority-based layoffs in the district had led to the dismissal of hundreds of highly effective teachers and fell hardest on schools in the city's poorest neighborhoods. Far fewer layoffs would be necessary if the decisions were based on performance rather than seniority, a Times analysis found.
In February 2010, civil rights attorneys representing students at three district middle schools filed a class-action lawsuit arguing that that the layoffs, which under state law are based exclusively on seniority, had a disproportionate effect on poor and minority students.
Highberger granted an injunction last March that blocked further layoffs at those schools and in December tentatively approved a settlement between the school district and the students' attorneys that allowed some schools to be exempted from future layoffs.
During a three-day hearing, the teachers union urged the court to reverse its decision and order a deeper examination of the causes of high turnover at troubled schools.
Richard Ingersoll, an education expert for the union, argued that the settlement would "divert attention from the real problem, which is that these schools are a leaky bucket."
Tom Torlakson, the state's newly elected superintendent of public instruction, submitted a brief echoing the teachers' union position on Friday, saying that districts already have the ability to dismiss instructors based on factors other than seniority. State law allows for some exceptions for teachers with special skills or credentials.
Torlakson asserted that teachers union officials were not part of settlement negotiations, a statement that district officials and other attorneys dispute.
A spokeswoman for Torlakson, who was heavily supported by teachers unions during his campaign, said he was unavailable for comment but that the brief was based on the "merits of the case."
The 45 protected schools have not yet been identified, and union lawyers objected to the discretion given to the district to name 20 of them.
John Deasy, incoming Los Angeles schools superintendent, said district officials would begin determining this weekend which schools would be exempted and how that would affect expected layoffs. The district must send preliminary layoff notices by March 15 and the board must approve them before then.
- The Two Jasons are hardly impartial observers, they are the principal drivers of the ‘value added’ argument.
- If “a case that pits the constitutional rights of students against the job protections of teachers” were to be settled by a negotiated settlement between the parties I would expect the judge to be handed his head in the court of appeal. Constitutional issues are not bargained.
- I am shocked – shocked – that Mayor Bloomberg – a fully vested member of The Billionaire Boys Club Reform School – is in agreement with the Two Jasons!
- LAUSD, in spite of the injunction – has been merrily RIFing and reassigning staff (not necessarily teachers) based on seniority at Liechty Middle School (ground zero in this appeal). The protection accorded students must be about more than only teachers.
- What’s good for 45 schools must be good for all schools - we don’t have a population or a school or a community more deserving of equity than another.
- NYC High School Teacher Marc Epstein wrote: "Tenure for public school teachers is not a lifetime sinecure. In most respects it is no different from civil service protections for police, fire, and sanitation workers. You have to have due process in order to fire an employee." http://huff.to/fCGw0K In the same article he also wrote: "When there is evidence of bad public policy, you can safely assume that it took two parties working collaboratively to create the swamp."
UTLA strongly opposes Judge Highberger's decision to approve the settlement which will have a series of unintended negative consequences that will hurt our students.
- Student learning will be harmed by widespread staff instability .
- Experienced teachers will be laid off solely because they happen to teach at a school with a large number of veteran teachers.
- The settlement does nothing to solve the systemic problems at hard-to-staff schools or address the inequities suffered by our most at-risk students.
- Read UTLA Response...
- More background on the ACLU lawsuit
Needy campuses get more stability; veteran Valley instructors may face layoffs
Contra Costa Times - C.J. Lin -
Even though the ruling affects only 45 of LAUSD's 1065 schools, education officials said the ruling's effect would stretch far beyond Los Angeles. ...
[Mayors] Partnership Issues Statement on Judge Highberger's Ruling in Reed v. the State ...
Business Wire (press release) -
It is a unique collaboration between the City of Los Angeles and the Los Angeles Unified School District to turnaround LA's lowest performing schools and to ...
LA Weekly (blog) - Simone Wilson -
State of California, et al., that seniority can no longer be a factor in teacher layoffs throughout the Los Angeles Unified School District. ...
Washington Post - Christina Hoag -
"This is a historic decision for the state of California," said John Deasy, deputy superintendent of Los Angeles Unified School District. ...
MyFox Los Angeles - Tony Spearman -
"I am grateful today on behalf of every child, employee and board member of the Los Angeles Unified School District," LAUSD board president Monica Garcia ...