An appeals court yesterday refused to delay a settlement that would shield low income schools in Los Angeles from layoffs. The settlement came in the aftermath of a lawsuit by the ACLU on behalf of low income families who argued that seniority-based layoffs disproportionately harmed their schools since they had a disproportionate number of newer teachers.
Today John Fensterwald (Educated Guess) wrote a piece suggesting that the LAUSD ruling might become a model for other school districts. This question is not trivial. The LAUSD ruling undermines seniority protections that had been negotiated between United Teachers of Los Angeles (UTLA) and LAUSD, and thus the power of the contract itself. If a lawsuit can weaken or possibly strip away seniority protections, despite having been negotiated and signed into a contract, then why couldn’t other protections, like class size limitations, also be stripped from a labor contract?
It should be pointed out that the disproportionate number of newer teachers at low income schools is not caused by seniority. It is a consequence of weak or incompetent administrators that do little to bring veteran teachers into low performing low income schools or to improve those schools and make them desirable places to work. It is also important to recognize that low income schools tend to burn teachers out more than middle class schools as they place much higher demands on teachers to bring up test scores and to solve the educational problems caused by poverty. Therefore, even if newer teachers at these schools are shielded from being laid off during this round of cutbacks, these schools may still lose higher numbers of teachers due to attrition.
Jack O’Connell, the former state superintendent, took no position on the lawsuit. However, the new Superintendent, Tom Torlakson, has filed briefs opposing the settlement and called for delaying its implementation because of the potential implications to disrupt teacher assignments throughout the state.
In a related piece of disturbing news, Education Trust-West issued a list of recommendations for reforming the layoff process called Victims of the Churn: The Damaging Impact of California’s Teacher Layoff Policies on Schools, Students and Communities in Three Large School Districts. Notice that the title of the report does not even include teachers as victims of their own layoffs. Ostensibly, teachers are dispensable, easily replaceable objects in the machinery of education. Their recommendations include:
- Repealing the state law requiring districts to use seniority as the primary criteria for layoffs (using the courts or legislature to crush contracts and collective bargaining)
- Protecting high-poverty schools from the disproportionate impact of layoffs (by killing seniority? Or by some other means?)
- Delaying the March 15 deadline for layoff notices to the summer to give districts more time to make accurate layoff decisions