Wednesday, March 23, 2011


By Connie Llanos, Staff Writer, LA Daily News |

Second-grade teacher Jennifer Loeser shows her "pink slip" -- which is not really pink -- outside Vintage Magnet School in North Hills. (David Crane)

3/23/2011 -  Updated: 09:13:07 AM PDT - 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.

The 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 San Fernando Valley, 193 of the 287 schools listed would lose certificated positions - primarily teachers, but also librarians, counselors and nurses. Two dozen of those schools could lose one-fourth of their staffs.

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.

The report obtained by the Daily News covers only the layoff notices sent to more than 5,200 certificated staff members - those who spend the most time with students.

The breakdown 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 20 percent would see even heavier losses.

Nearly one-third, however, would escape unscathed.

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

Nearly half of the 26 educators at Fullbright Elementary in Canoga Park received layoff notices this month, while fewer than 10 percent of the 45 educators at Canoga Park Elementary - located less than two miles away - were targeted.

District officials said the process is governed by 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 John Deasy, the district's No. 2 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 claims 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 the schools, which have a disproportionately high number of newer teachers because of high turnover typically caused by difficult working conditions.

In fact, those 45 schools would have received 10 percent of the layoff notices, the list shows. Instead, notices were redirected to the next name on the seniority list - adding one or two teachers from each of the other campuses.

"We don't have parity or equity because we have to purely follow seniority, and that is a problem," Deasy said. "Until we stand up as a state and say quality-blind layoffs don't serve adults or kids well, we are going to face this issue."

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.

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.

Without that funding, LAUSD will face a $408 million deficit, officials say. If voters extend current tax initiatives, 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.

The flexibility would be welcomed by teachers like Trinidad Hernandez, who received her notice earlier this month.

A fifth-grade teacher at Sunnybrae Elementary in Winnetka, Hernandez has earned a reputation on campus for being a star teacher.

Hernandez prides herself on pushing students to their full potential, and proof of her success can be found in the rising test scores reached by kids in her classroom.

"I know I get a paycheck for my work ... but I do what I do because I love my kids," said Hernandez, who has taught at LAUSD for seven years. "I give them 100 percent."

Hernandez said she believes that factors other than seniority should be used to determine which teachers get to keep their jobs during difficult economic times.

"It's a disservice to our kids and to our profession," Hernandez said. "There are good surgeons, great surgeons and OK surgeons ... There are good teachers, great teachers and OK teachers.

"I want to go to the great surgeon ... and our kids deserve to get the great teachers."

Education experts also urge 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.

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."

Second-grade teacher Jennifer Loeser, a six-year teacher at Vintage, was notified by LAUSD that she will be terminated at the end of the school year. (David Crane/L.A. Daily News)

Impact of March 2011 RIF's on LAUSD Local Districts 1 & 2

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