Thursday, December 9, 2010

Anti-Ed Blitzkrieg in L.A.—ACLU Supports Merit Pay Scheme

More Massive Cuts Hit LAUSD

Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) laid off 1,000 non-teaching staff on December 1. Another 1,600 received pay reductions, and 2,040 more were transferred. Nearly one in six classified (non-teaching) workers in the nation’s second largest school district was affected by the reorganization. Many of those fired were nurses and librarians.

The cuts were a continuation of the layoffs, furloughs and pay cuts that began earlier this year, affecting both teachers and classified support staff. The cuts are likely to continue, as next year’s budget has a projected $142 million shortfall. In addition, federal stimulus money that had been supporting 12,000 jobs is set to dry up.

All Education Cuts Hurt Students and Teachers

While teachers and parents may be sighing in relief, since teacher jobs were spared in this current wave of lay-offs, they should remember that all cuts hurt students and degrade teachers’ working conditions. Cuts in custodians translate to overflowing garbage cans, filthy toilets, grungy class rooms, and sea gull and rat infested lunch areas. Laid off secretaries and administrative assistants result in delays obtaining transcripts, screwed up master schedules, and befuddled administrators forced to schedule their own appointments. Fewer nurses mean that the miserly medical attention that was available may disappear completely, while library services may evaporate, too.   

Any sighs of relief are premature anyway, as state funds are also set to dry up, with more lay-offs, furloughs and program cuts down the road for L.A. and the rest of the state. California faces a $25.4 billion deficit, with legislators on both sides of the aisle crying for the blood of teachers and other state employees. While they haven’t the balls to raise taxes on the rich and on corporations, to levy royalties on Big Oil or to empty the overflowing prisons of nonviolent drug offenders, they have no problem cutting social programs, especially those benefitting the poor and children.

Those hoping for relief from the incoming administration should think again. During his previous stint as governor, Jerry Brown repeatedly vetoed pay raises for state employees and cut pensions. Don’t wait for your union to help, either. They’re more likely to offer furloughs and pay cuts than to demand ample funding or respect.

Even Mayor Villaraigosa, a recovering UTLA organizer, is attacking L.A. teachers, calling the UTLA leadership “one, unwavering roadblock to reform.” He called on the union to come to the “reform table, ready with ideas” to change tenure laws and teacher evaluations. The mayor clearly knows which side of the Ed Deform bread the butter is on, and seems to be leveraging himself for higher office.

Et Tu ACLU? As if We Didn’t Already Have Enough Enemies?

Huck/Konopacki Labor Cartoons
The mayor’s attack comes in the wake of a recent court ruling in favor an ACLU lawsuit against LAUSD for firing more teachers at low performing, low income schools, than at middle class schools. Massive layoffs last year resulted in over half the teachers being fired at Liechty, Gompers and Markham schools. LAUSD blamed UTLA for clinging selfishly to tenure rights, arguing that contractually they had to fire the most recently hired, who just happened to work disproportionately at these lower-income schools. Yet LAUSD failed to follow through on a consent decree, and their own policy, to create a balance of new and veteran teachers at all schools.

The settlement protects 45 underperforming schools from future teacher layoffs, regardless of seniority, but only if they show improvement in test scores. It also contains a commitment to explore the possibility of offering bonuses to recruit and retain teachers at low performing schools. (This is a backdoor merit pay scheme, concocted in collaboration between the ACLU and LAUSD behind closed doors). While it is clearly unfair and pedagogically stupid to massively layoff teachers at low performing, low income schools, this ruling overrides what had been a legally binding contract between UTLA and LAUSD, thus undermining the collective bargaining process and setting a dangerous precedent for unionized workers throughout the country. It also lets LAUSD off the hook for failing to address the conditions that caused such high attrition at its lowest performing schools.

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