11,700 Teacher Layoffs Would Have 'Tremendous Impact' In L.A.
“It would have a tremendous impact,” said Susan Frey, a program associate with EdSource, a non-profit organization that focuses on California education issues. “Even the threat of layoffs can be demoralizing to staff.”
United Teachers Los Angeles President Warren Fletcher echoed that dire prediction. “These large number of layoff notices, if finalized, would destroy the district,” he said in a press release.
According to the union’s website, the notices affect “more than 25 percent of all the teachers and health and human services professionals district wide who work with students every day." The site's message went onto say the district should use more than $180 million in newly available state lottery funds to recall a portion of the pink slips. The district sent out the notices based on a projected budget deficit of $557 million. With the new funds, the deficit is now projected at $390 million.
By no means are any of the layoff notices final. Frey said state law requires school districts to send preliminary notices by March 15—before districts receive a more polished budget outlook from the state in June.
“It could be that some of the notices are rescinded,” she said.
She also said that Gov. Jerry Brown's proposed initiatives that would increase sales and high-income taxes add another layer of complexity for schools' futures. Failure to pass the initiatives would trigger billions of dollars in automatic cuts toward K-12 education and public universities—possible cuts that LAUSD cited as one reason for the volume of notices sent. And with K-12 public education accounting for 40 percent of all state spending, Frey said it was impossible for lawmakers to completely spare education from cuts.
School districts “won’t really know until November how much money they’ll get” from the state, she said.
Some critics expressed skepticism about Brown’s plan of funding education through tax hikes.
“I think a lot of what Jerry Brown is saying is to scare voters into passing the initiatives,” said Jeremiah Lockwood, a social studies teacher and UTLA representative at a high school in South Los Angeles. “The unfortunate part is that a lot of these temporary taxes don’t have a lot to do with education.”
Despite his doubts, Lockwood said things "would only get worse” if voters don’t pass Brown's initiatives.
“Forty-three students in high school classrooms. That’s the cap," he said. "I have students in some of my classes where it’s standing room only.”
Lockwood, who sat down to talk in February before this year’s notices were sent, expressed dismay over last year’s mailing of around 5,000 pink slips, more than 3,400 of which the district rescinded in June. He said the school district “overexaggerates every instance of the smallest thing” to force the union to bow under pressure.
“They've thrown out all these pink slips, which destroys moral and gets everybody all worked up, but then they reel them all back,” Lockwood said. “They do it so that they can get the union to concede to their demands. They don't need us to take furlough days—they just take the money made from the lost days and bank it.”
Frey said Lockwood's objections were pretty common. “A lot of the teachers unions are concerned," she said, "that the district is sending out too many notices."
According to Frey, the ritual of sending out thousands of preliminary layoff notices was the result of California’s funding process for education, which she called a “very strange system.”
Lockwood and others agreed the education woes are nothing new.
“Education funding in California has hit a crisis,” said Frank Wells, a spokesman for the California Teacher’s Association, via e-mail last month. “Schools have been slashed by more than $20 billion over the past four years and over 40,000 educators and support staff have been laid off. Class sizes have soared, and college and university tuition is pricing many students out of an education.”
Lockwood has seen the dwindling firsthand. “I started back in ’06," he said. "Back then, there were 107 teachers. Now we’re down to 64.”
He said the teachers who left lost their jobs typically switched to different schools, or ditched the state of California entirely to go work somewhere else.
“It’s disgusting how little our state government values education,” he said. “A couple years ago, if California had left the union and broken off, we would have been the fifth wealthiest nation in the world. But if you go by per pupil funding, we rank near the bottom.”
Part of the reason for California's dismal level of spending towards education: a series of court cases and laws stemming from the 1970s that shifted funding from local governments to a state wallowing in debt.
"It's the way our property taxes are set up," Lockwood said.
Frey cited both the 1971 California Supreme Court case Serrano v. Priest, which hampered the ability for local governments to fund schools, and Proposition 13, which capped property taxes, as significant catalysts in draining property tax funds for local school districts.
Prop. 13 and Serrano v. Priest “changed the whole structure of school funding financing,” Frey said. “Before that, schools were mostly funded by property taxes and local decisions."
When asked if the system was broke, Frey chuckled.
“Yes, I think everyone agrees that it’s broke.”