It is completely understandable why many UTLA members may want to vote this measure down. It is unclear whether the LAUSD has cut enough from its own bureaucracy in order to justify a pay cut for teachers. Although many districts have their budgets posted online as a way of promoting transparency, getting accurate numbers from LAUSD is like pulling teeth. As teachers see it, vast mismanagement of funds, and poor management in general led to a surplus of workers in a district with declining enrollment. Now, to balance the budget, teachers are asked to sacrifice pay. This is not okay.
Other UTLA members believe in the "last hired, first fired" way of fairly dealing with layoffs. That might make sense except at schools like L.A. Academy a.k.a. LAAMS (and Markham MS, and Fremont HS, and Jefferson HS) where no one wants to work, and thus are overly represented by bright-eyed, new teachers who had no other choice of where to work (we call them unknowingly lucky.) When cuts come our way, we lose more teachers than in any other part of the district. In the 2009 Reduction in Force, South Central Los Angeles bore 40% of all the layoffs. Again, not okay, and the reason why the ACLU filed a lawsuit against the district.
Clearly, the system isn't perfect. The time has come for UTLA to take the lead in ensuring the fair distribution of new teachers across the district if it wants to maintain the current seniority system used to conduct layoffs. Otherwise, every time there is a turn in the economy, schools like LAAMS will be decimated and our students will be left as they are now, bereft of teachers who chose to work with them, planned to stay at our school for a long time, and were invested in the school and its programs.
From a teacher's point of view, starting over with new staff is at best, making no forward progress. It takes time for teachers to learn about their new school, become familiar with the culture and climate, and to decide whether it is a place that is respectful and valuable for them to commit to. All momentum towards academic improvement is stopped, and in many cases, goes back the other way.
A possible solution: across the board pay cuts. Every school and office takes the same cut. Teachers can keep their district seniority if they transfer to a hard to staff school, and they will be virtually guaranteed employment because the average years of experience at schools such as mine (84% teaching <5 years) is on the lower end. But if they insist on staying at a LACES HS or a Bravo HS, they run the risk of being laid off in a RIF year. This seems fair. On an issue like this, it is imperative for the agenda to be student, not adult-centered.
Finally, the shortening of the school year is the lesser of two evils Far more harm will come to schools if you layoff the very people willing and able to make a difference in students' lives. When we lost the people you see in the sidebar of this blog, it was like a piece of our collective LAAMS heart died. We will never be able to replace the Ms. Sanlins and Ms. Umbers we lost to the budget cuts. And it is a move that can never be undone. Those 12 days will go by in a flash, but the loss of experienced and talented teachers is forever.
So UTLA members, we ask that you vote yes on the CBA. The future of LAAMS depends on it.
Photo by Aaron Short