Saturday, March 26, 2011


By Connie Llanos + Melissa Pamer Staff Writers | Daily Breeze |

3/26/2011 - Layoffs prompted by declining enrollment and a crippling budget deficit would thin the ranks of Los Angeles Unified's educators by 15 percent, leaving few schools unscathed by the financial crisis, according to district documents.

A breakdown of layoff notices at 952 schools shows that roughly two-thirds of them would lose at least one educator when classes start in the fall.

In the South Bay and Harbor Area, 70 of 71 traditional schools listed would lose certificated positions - primarily teachers, but also librarians, counselors and nurses.

Among the 10 most impacted campuses across the sprawling district is Point Fermin Elementary in San Pedro. A small school that became a marine-themed magnet in 2009 and draws a significant portion of its student body from military families in nearby Air Force housing, the campus is slated to lose seven teachers, or 47 percent of its certificated staff.

"If I were to lose all of these teachers, it would be devastating to my students," Principal Bonnie Taft said. "It would be discouraging to the morale of our school; it would affect the culture of our school. My parents would be extremely upset and disappointed."

The district report detailing the impact of layoff notices by school reflects the worst-case scenario - one that assumes Los Angeles Unified will face a $408 million deficit for the 2011-12 school year.

"If the worst-case scenario holds true, painful would be an understatement," Deborah Ignani, LAUSD's assistant chief human resources officer, said in an interview. "We are hoping the worst case doesn't happen."

Last month, LAUSD officials approved sending layoff notices to 7,300 employees, including certificated staff, administrators and support staff. Notices had to be sent out by March 15 under state law.

The report on the notices - obtained by the Daily Breeze's sister paper, the Los Angeles Daily News - covers only letters sent to more than 5,200 certificated staff members. Administrators, who regularly receive annual layoff notices as a way for the district to reserve the right to move principals around, were excluded.

The breakdown also excludes information on 140 campuses, including adult schools, occupational centers and independent charters, which have their own policies for terminating staff.

The analysis shows every community in Los Angeles - from Sylmar to San Pedro - would be affected by layoffs. More than one-third of the district's campuses would lose 10 percent to 19 percent of their staffs, and a fifth of schools would see even heavier losses.

In the South Bay and Harbor Area, the most seriously affected are: 156th Street and Purche elementary schools in Gardena; Caroledale Learning Community, Carnegie Middle School, and Ambler Avenue, Annalee and 232nd Place elementary schools in Carson; and Point Fermin and Park Western Place elementary schools in San Pedro.

Those campuses all saw at least a quarter of certificated employees received pink slips.

But nearly one-third of schools districtwide would escape unscathed. Locally, that includes just one traditional school: Crestwood Street Elementary, in the small section of Rancho Palos Verdes that remains part of LAUSD.

There is considerable disparity in how the layoff notices would hit schools in the same community.

In San Pedro, Park Western was among the most impacted schools districtwide, with 12 of its 31 certificated employees getting layoff notices. But a campus just 1 mile to the south, Seventh Street Elementary, saw just one pink slip.

That's because the process is governed by a state law that requires districts to base layoffs on seniority - the "last-hired, first-fired" rule.

"It is very frustrating and very problematic to have to reduce our ranks with no attention to quality or to the contribution a teacher makes to the school or to student learning," said Deputy Superintendent John Deasy, who will take over as superintendent next month.

"We're putting some of our best and brightest on the street simply because they have the right number (of years with the district), not because of the job they are doing ... and that makes me very worried."

This year, teachers at 45 schools in Los Angeles Unified were shielded from layoffs because of a settlement in a lawsuit filed by a coalition of civil-rights attorneys. The suit claimed the combination of budget cuts and teacher layoffs at three low-performing middle schools violated the rights of students to a fair and equal education.

The settlement helped stabilize those three schools, and included 42 others that have a disproportionately high number of new teachers because of high turnover typically caused by difficult working conditions.

In fact, the 45 schools would have received 10 percent of the layoff notices, the district's list shows. Instead, more than 500 notices were redirected to the next name on the seniority list.

That meant some schools could lose more teachers than they would have without the settlement, which is being appealed by United Teachers Los Angeles. Schools that had a greater than average percentage of layoffs to begin with were exempted from redistributed notices, under the terms of the settlement.

The district layoff list shows that, as a result of the settlement, an additional 54 layoff notices were sent to local schools, many of of them troubled and with a low-income student population.

Banning High in Wilmington was slated to lose 20 staff members, but that was bumped up to 24 after redistribution of notices. Similarly, San Pedro High was set to lose just three educators, but is instead now slated to see nine go.

The settlement has provoked outrage among some UTLA representatives, including Harbor Area Chair Aaron Bruhnke, a San Pedro High teacher.

"You take a place like Banning High or Gulf Elementary School - you can't tell me those aren't schools that aren't high-needs schools," Bruhnke said. "This overreaching decision - spreading to the 45 - means that other parts of the city are going to be disproportionally hit ... and some of those schools are high-needs schools."

School board President Monica Garcia stressed that all campuses in the nation's second-largest district will be feeling the financial strain next year, even if they are not slated to lose any teachers.

"Every school is being asked to continue to perform, and raise achievement, with less resources," Garcia said.

In passing its $5.1 billion budget for 2011-12, the district plans to increase class size in grades kindergarten through eight - which means fewer teachers will be needed.

The district also anticipates another dip in enrollment - which has dropped from 747,000 in 2002 to about 671,600 today - as students transfer to charter schools. The Board of Education recently voted to turn over operations of several district schools to charter organizations, a move controversial with the teachers union.

Funding for arts and music programs, magnet schools and other key intervention programs also has been cut, forcing layoffs in these departments.

Garcia urged local families and community members to get involved with the issue of school finance by asking Sacramento legislators to prevent more cuts to schools.

Gov. Jerry Brown has been pushing the Legislature to put a series of tax extensions on the June ballot that would provide about $2.2 billion for public education across California. This week he suggested that he would back a signature-gathering campaign to circumvent Sacramento Republicans and place an initiative on the November ballot.

But that would be too late for the 2011-12 school year.

Without the funding from the tax extensions, LAUSD will face a $408 million deficit, district officials say. If voters extend current taxes, the deficit would be reduced to $225 million and some of the cuts could be averted.

"There is something for everyone to do to help us," Garcia said.

Garcia also said the district is exploring whether it can seek waivers from the state-mandated seniority-based layoffs.

Meanwhile, education experts are urging legislators to consider the long-term impact that cuts to education will have.

"In the next few years, demographic projections show that California will have a 6 percent increase in its student body, which will require 19,000 new teachers," said John Rogers, director of UCLA's Institute for Democracy, Education and Access.

"The long-run implications of these cutbacks is that we will likely have severe teacher shortages."

A shortage of teachers could negate some of the academic improvements that have been reached by local schools - notably Park Western, which is now on the top-achieving campuses in the district, some 14 years after being named on a list of the 100 worst.

In a recent study, Rogers said he focused on the effects of layoffs and budget cuts at high schools in Los Angeles, where officials have struggled to reverse dismal graduation rates.

"The effect of furloughs and pink slips, ultimately, is that it stops reform in its tracks," Rogers said.

"The sense of trust and hopefulness at a school gets undermined when staff is turned over."

No comments: