Last Friday night in an emergency meeting, the SCUSD School Board unanimously voted (Gustavo Arroyo was not present) to reject a decision reached in recent layoff hearings by the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ), which invalidated many of the lay-off “skipping” criteria that the District had used for issuing pink slips. The ALJ (who served as an independent third party) found:
• Many priority school skips were invalid.
• A number of math skips were invalid.
• Some special education, dual language and Accelerated Academy skips were invalid.
• The District could not bar reassignment of more senior teachers to a priority school.
The ALJ’s ruling would have resulted in 90 pink-slipped teachers being called back to work for the coming year. Because the Board chose to reject part of the ruling, approx.. 60 of those teachers will be issued permanent lay-off notices.
Interestingly, in the San Francisco Unified School District last week, an ALJ invalidated similar lay-off skipping at select Superintendent Zone schools. Unlike our Board, the trustees in San Francisco chose to accept the ALJ ruling.
SCTA strongly opposed the Board’s action Friday night. For the reasons explained below, we consider the Board’s decision among the most egregious in memory and a direct assault on the future of our local.
- SCTA strongly supports efforts to make every school in this District a nurturing, highly professional and academically successful place. This was most recently demonstrated when our members overwhelmingly voted to voluntarily give back to the District $95/mo. of each member’s pay for two years in order to fund lower class sizes District-wide in the critically important K-3 years. Teachers supported this even though, for most, such a program would not alleviate the crowding and strain at the grade levels in which they teach. We did it because it was the right thing to do for our students, especially the very large number of high needs students and families we serve District-wide.
- We are a Title 1 District with 85 schools and about 65% of the students living in poverty. Nearly a quarter of our students are designated as English Language Learners. These high needs students are not solely concentrated in the seven schools Superintendent Raymond designated as his priority schools, but are spread out in a majority of our schools throughout the District.
- The decision by the Superintendent to concentrate District funding and attention to seven designated priority schools has created a situation where precious resources, including staffing guarantees, are being funneled away from the many other high needs schools and kids throughout the District. Especially during this time of unprecedented fiscal crisis, this policy decision must be critically analyzed both to its ethical basis and its compliance with state law, which is what the ALJ was duty-bound to consider.
- During the lay-off hearings, the District failed to provide sufficient evidence to convince the ALJ that all of the priority schools special staffing guarantees (“skips”) were justified under state law. This ruling does not in any way call into question the enormous dedication the teachers at the seven priority schools have demonstrated over the past two years. Rather, it underscores the failure of the District administration to provide for the needs of the students at the seven priority schools at the same time as it provides for the needs of the students at the District’s 78 other schools.
- This District failure perhaps can best be seen in the plight of Luther Burbank High School. Like Hiram Johnson High School, Burbank is a school serving students from high poverty neighborhoods with large numbers of English Language Learners. Statistics show Burbank with a larger student population, larger English Language Learner population and larger high poverty population than Johnson (nearly 100%). Burbank, however, is not a designated Superintendent priority school. This is largely due to the work of Burbank’s long-time principal, Ted Appel, in attracting a stable, experienced staff who have worked well together over the long haul to create successful academic and social programs for the students. However, due to the staffing and resource demands of the Superintendent’s priority school program, Burbank is set to lose nearly a quarter of its staff and the continuing viability of its unique programs, including the only International Baccalaureate program in the District.
- The ALJ’s ruling is a warning to the Board that some of the Superintendent’s priority school staffing program was likely illegal. Heeding the ruling would have provided the Board with the opportunity to critically consider the impacts of this program District-wide, not merely at the seven priority schools. Since the timing of this ruling would have brought back 60 more pink-slipped teachers, while leaving in place the priority school teachers, no student, teacher or program would have been harmed.
- The Board could have chosen to direct to the Superintendent to work over the next year with SCTA to seek resource solutions that are equitable and respectful of the needs of all our District students, schools and teachers, without undermining the progress at the seven priority schools.
- The Board could have rejected the cynicism, divisiveness and fiscal irresponsibility on display in the email sent to Hiram Johnson High School staff by the school principal, Felisberto Cedros, who wrote, “[T]he Superintendent is inclined to ignore the Administrative Law Judge’s ruling and force SCTA to file a lawsuit against the District; that can happen with the support of the Board of Education.” [Italics mine.]
- The Board could have decided that it needs to follow the law.
- Instead, the Board chose the path outlined in Mr. Cedros’ email: “force SCTA to file a lawsuit against the District….” In doing so, it demonstrated its eagerness to rob from our students and families by spending ever-more-precious education dollars on lawyers instead of kids.
We are currently exploring all avenues in response. We will keep you updated.