Middle school teachers with the Los Angeles Unified School District who were potentially headed for the unemployment line have been given a late hour reprieve by LAUSD Supt. Ramon Cortines.

Cortines announced his plans to rescind over 500 layoff notices to secondary educators and administrators at a press conference at Marshall High School Friday, June 12th.

“I am pleased that we can now notify these teachers and counselors,” Cortines stated. “This action is the direct result of early retirement and schools buying additional teachers and counselors at middle and high schools.”

Under the decision, 271 non-permanent, secondary English teachers, 114 non-permanent, secondary social studies teachers and 120 non-permanent, secondary counselors will receive letters advising them that they will not be terminated or laid off by the district.

Non-permanent teachers and counselors who do not have tenure are those with only one or two years of experience.

Cortines had pledged earlier this year to give principals and school site councils the flexibility to utilize Title I funds to buy back teachers, administrators or programs at their respective schools, and the superintendent attributed the district’s ability to withdraw the termination letters to his local control plan.

“We empowered local schools to make the purchasing decisions they believe will make their instructional program successful,” Cortines said. “We are able to rescind these 505 reduction-in-force notices because of the decisions that were made by school site councils.”

Title I is a set of programs created by the United States Department of Education to distribute funding to schools and school districts with a high percentage of students from low-income families.

Schools that qualify as a Title I school typically have approximately 40 percent or more of their students come from families that qualify under the U.S. Census definitions as low-income.

Orville Wright Middle School Principal James Singleton feels that this new flexibility has permitted school leaders to save valuable faculty and school initiatives.

“I think that having that ability is very good for principals,” said Singleton, who took over from Stephen Rochelle at the Westchester middle school in September.

Westchester is in the midst of establishing local governance in its schools through LAUSD’s iDesign Division, and its school site councils have begun hiring their own administrators and are learning how to structure their own budgets.

While the news comes at a welcome time for middle school teachers, elementary school-aged children will still have to contend with losing many of their favorite teachers.

This resonates with parents like Sherry Curreri, whose two sons attend Coeur D’Alene Avenue Elementary School in Venice.

“I’m really happy that LAUSD decided to put some weight into the middle schools, because they are in great need,” said Curreri, the vice-president of the Coeur D’Alene Booster Club.

“However,” she continued, “Why should we be put in a position to take several steps backward after we’ve taken so many steps forward?”

The elementary school is in danger of losing a popular administrator, Dr. Marilyn Soifer, and the booster club and other parents are rallying LAUSD officials to keep her.

Unlike other schools in the local area, Coeur D’Alene does not receive Title I funding, and consequently does not have the flexibility that other schools may have in buying back teacher positions.

Orville Wright was able to purchase approximately three teacher positions recently, said Stapleton, and the decisions were made by the school site council.

“This way, it really does bring community and staff together when you have to make these crucial decisions,” said Stapleton, who himself was one of the first administrators in Westchester to be hired by a local governance council.

Westchester High School teacher Fred Page called LAUSD’s decision to rescind the layoff notice “miraculous,” and feels that the pressure applied by United Teachers of Los Angeles was a contributing factor.

“I think that it was a combination of the district finding extra money and the actions that we as teachers have taken over the last several months,” he said.

“LAUSD has taken a lot of heat (over its decision to lay off thousands of teachers), and I think that it’s miraculous that they’ve found extra money after what we’ve been doing,” Page added.

Cortines said that he and other district officials realize that many educators are still on the chopping block as LAUSD seeks to reduce its multi-million dollar budget deficit.

“I am still deeply concerned about the number of employees being laid off, but we are doing everything we can to save jobs,” the superintendent said.

“We encourage any teacher who is still set to lose his/her job at the end of June to be processed as a day-to-day substitute.”

Cortines also acknowledged that the Sacramento budget crisis could still present hurdles for the district in the coming weeks, but he appeared convinced that the measures that LAUSD is taking are effective.

“Despite challenges from the state’s continuing budget crisis, LAUSD’s plan is working,” he said.

The LAUSD Board of Education must approve Cortines’ action before the notices can be nullified.

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