Citing the need to close an unprecedented massive budget deficit, the Los Angeles Unified School District Board of Education voted to authorize sending layoff letters to over 8,800 teachers and administrative personnel at a very contentious March 10th meeting.
The highly-charged hearing was interrupted frequently by several employees from the school district, who sat on the floor in front of the board waving signs and chanting.
A.J. Duffy, president of United Teachers Los Angeles, the district’s largest teachers union, also interrupted LAUSD Supt. Ramon Cortines as he prepared to give his report on the budget.
The board members eventually moved to another meeting room in order to continue to discuss the layoffs.
“The disturbance has interrupted our meeting to the point where the orderly conduct of this meeting is not feasible,” board president Monica GarcÌa announced to the audience.
According to LAUSD reports, 8,846 employees will soon receive termination notices. That number includes nearly 5,000 classroom teachers.
Teacher layoffs have been long anticipated since LAUSD officials announced last summer that they would be seeking ways to close the budget gap and that eliminating thousands of classroom positions was a strong possibility.
The school district faces a $718-million shortfall and anticipates growing deficits over the next few years.
“We’re looking at every single school across the district to see what is the best way to reduce our deficit proportionately,” Lydia Ramos, a LAUSD spokeswoman, told The Argonaut. “Even though we will have to lay off some classroom teachers, we could see administrators, like academic coaches, returning to the classroom.”
UTLA held a rally to protest the layoffs after the school board meeting in front of the district headquarters in downtown Los Angeles.
“Layoffs are devastating for the students, parents and teachers who are part of a school community,” said Duffy. “Many schools will experience significant teacher turnover.”
Teachers are expected to receive their notices by Friday, March 13th. State law mandates that the district must notify the affected employees by March 15th.
Kenneth Tiegs, who teaches history at Westchester High School, says that knowing that teacher positions will be eliminated has caused morale among some of his colleagues to plummet.
“(LAUSD) is asking us to do more with less already, and on top of that, they’re firing some of us,” said Tiegs.
Newly hired teachers are the most vulnerable, as district policy states that they be terminated before a tenured instructor. But because of the depth of the budget shortfall, even longtime educators are not completely safe.
“In some cases, some permanent teachers might lose their positions as well,” Ramos acknowledged.
Parents at Coeur d’Alene Avenue Elementary School in Venice initiated a letter-writing campaign in the hope of saving some of their favorite teachers and administrators to school board member Marlene Canter, who represents Westchester, Del Rey, Venice and Mar Vista.
“I write as a parent to IMPLORE you to NOT lay off our assistant principal Marilyn Soiffer from Coeur d’Alene Elementary in Venice,” wrote Heather Kahler, a Venice resident whose daughter is a second-grader at the school. “(The) truth is, I am appalled that the mismanagement of our state budget is falling in the laps of children — again. Highly educated adults in government are failing at their jobs and expecting small children to pay the price.”
Sherry Curreri, vice president of Friends of Coeur d’Alene who has two sons in second grade and third grade at Coeur d’Alene, seemed mystified about LAUSD’s burgeoning deficit numbers.
“With all of the money that we allocate for schools, where is that money going?” Curreri asked. “I’m really baffled about this.”
Westchester schools are in the midst of implementing academic reform by breaking away from LAUSD, and parents like Kelly Kane are worried that the layoffs and reductions in the financial allotments for each school could stymie their efforts.
“We were told that we would have the decision-making authority over teachers and our budgets,” Kane, president of the Westchester-Playa del Rey Education Foundation, asserted. “This is occurring while we are trying to convince our community that (autonomy) is the best thing that we could have in Westchester and Playa del Rey.”
Kalher lamented the fact that the students at her daughter’s school could lose personnel that have enhanced their children’s learning experience.
“Each year we get more and more taken away from our kids. It is shameful. Do not take Mrs. Soiffer away from them,” Kahler, an independent animator, wrote.
“We have fabulous teachers,” Curreri added. “They have created a wonderful one-on-one structure with the children.”
Duffy feels that the schools, and especially teachers, continue to absorb the brunt of the budget axe at the district, and not enough attention has been directed to non-classroom positions.
“How about getting rid of some of the dozens of consultants that LAUSD has on staff that are being paid millions of dollars?” the union president asked.
Ramos countered that LAUSD is bracing for its share of the burden as well. Nearly 3,000 administrators will likely be sent back to the classroom in place of the laid off teachers.
“I think that it’s shortsighted to say, ‘Let’s get rid of all of these people,'” she said.
Cortines warned LAUSD employees in January that the school district would still have a number of fiscal challenges ahead, despite an earlier announcement that there would be no midyear layoffs.
“To be clear, we still need to make extremely difficult cuts,” the superintendent cautioned. “But at least we can ensure that the critical connection between our teachers and students will not be disrupted this year.”
Kane says the board’s decision is a huge blow to the district’s students.
“All I know is that I advocate on behalf of the students,” she said. “And students need excellent teachers.”
Duffy sees difficult days ahead for teachers and students at LAUSD.
“This is certain to affect student learning,” he predicted. “There are many other options for LAUSD to cut the bureaucracy before they cut the classroom.”
Ramos said that LAUSD authorities feel that the impact on classrooms will not be as great.
“All of the administrators that are going back to the classrooms are former teachers,” she noted.
Canter could not be reached for comment as of Argonaut press time.