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OUSD Teacher Layoffs: Why Los Angeles matters for Oakland (Opinion)

Teachers gather at Markham Middle School in Watts (Los Angeles).

Teachers gather at Markham Middle School in Watts (Los Angeles).

For the first time during the current recession, Oakland Unified School District school sites will likely have to lay off teachers. For the past few years, school sites have protected teachers in their budgets and enough teachers have voluntarily left OUSD to avoid layoffs.

OUSD may lay off hundreds of teachers next year. The numbers will be less if a tax extension measure is placed on the ballot by the state legislature next week and is passed by California voters in June. Teachers who might be laid off must be given notice by March 15.

Normally, the newest teachers are laid off first. A school site may cut a teaching position, but district-wide seniority will decide which teacher(s) actually get cut from the school. "Bumping" occurs when a teacher who did not get laid off has to give up her/his position to a teacher with higher seniority. This state policy is known as a "last-hired, first-fired" or "reverse-seniority" layoff policy.

How does what happened in Los Angeles impact Oakland?

In February 2010, students at three Los Angeles Unified School District middle schools filed a class-action lawsuit against LAUSD, charging that students' rights to a quality education were being violated by a strictly "last-hired, first-fired" layoff policy. The students argued that the layoffs were unfairly damaging to their schools because they had so many new teachers. For example, at Liechty Middle School, 72 percent of the teachers received layoff notices last school year. The layoffs were stopped by a Los Angeles Superior Court last May.

State law allows for an exception to seniority-based layoffs "for purposes of maintaining or achieving compliance with constitutional requirements related to equal protection of the laws." The court found LAUSD's layoffs caused a "real and appreciable impact on plaintiff's fundamental right to equal education opportunity."

The settlement - reached by students, LAUSD and Partnership for Public Schools, and approved by the LAUSD board in October 2010 - requires that 45 LAUSD "targeted schools" that meet agreed-upon criteria be shielded from teacher layoffs. Those 45 schools will receive LAUSD support to increase teacher and administrator attraction and retention. Also, the layoffs that would have been at those schools will be spread out more evenly among the rest of LAUSD's schools. The final settlement was challenged by United Teachers of Los Angeles.

These excerpts from the Los Angeles Superior Court's Final Approval of Settlement indicate why the court upheld the settlement against a challenge from the United Teachers of Los Angeles:

"Under no circumstances can LAUSD bargain away students' constitutional rights" (p.4)

"The evidence adduced at the final approval hearing confirms that high teacher turnover devastates educational opportunity in multiple ways: time and resources are spent
orienting newly assigned teachers; collaboration among teachers is disrupted; teacher-student relationships are fractured; and the faculty infrastructure is undermined."(p.22)

"As this Court already recognized, teacher turnover can have many causes. Teachers may transfer to other schools, retire, or leave the profession. But voluntary turnover cannot be prohibited; layoffs can."(p.28)

"Substantial evidence throughout this litigation has shown how budget-based layoffs devastated the teaching corps at struggling LAUSD schools, removing dedicated teachers who were committed to teaching at those particular schools."(p.29)

"Providing more stability at the Districts' other struggling schools is therefore critical to allow for reform efforts ... the principal at Gompers [middle school] has recruited a corps of teachers who were 'among the best teachers [she has] ever encountered in her career'....The schools invested substantially in teacher development. But the seniority-based layoffs decimated those turnaround efforts. As Mr. Deasy [the incoming LAUSD superintendent] testified, reform plans are wiped out by turnover."(p.34)

What can OUSD do?

OUSD must uphold students' fundamental right to basic equality of educational opportunity.

OUSD could comply with this state constitutional mandate to provide an equal education to all students by working with the Oakland Education Association to develop criteria for layoffs that protect the most vulnerable schools that would otherwise suffer dramatic percentages of teacher layoffs, and distribute the remaining teacher consolidations more fairly across our public schools.

OUSD also can provide effective teacher attraction and retention supports at those schools that have suffered from high teacher turnover rates and have a disproportionately high number of newer teachers, with the goal of reducing teacher turnover at those schools.

Click here to read GO's post from June 2010 when the suit in Los Angeles was first filed on behalf of students at three LAUSD middle schools.

For more information from GO Schools:

Cross posted from GO Schools Info Center.