Bill Boyarsky
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A nasty surprise for teachers

The teachers at the UCLA Community School at the Robert F. Kennedy school complex got an unpleasant surprise the other day, as did teachers at 44 other L.A. Unified schools in poor areas.

These teachers, who tend to be among the young, enthusiastic, energetic and, hopefully, talented, had thought they would be protected from the proposed layoffs of about 7,000 L.A. teachers, the result of the state and local budget crisis. Turns out many teachers may not be protected after all.

I heard about the situation when I was at the Kennedy complex, on the old Ambassador Hotel site, doing research for another story. I later found out it applied to many more schools.

Under the union contract, these layoffs have always been done on a last hired, first fired seniority basis. Younger teachers, who tend to be assigned to schools in poor areas, have been first fired. Many of the veteran teachers, protected by other seniority practices, turn down these difficult jobs. As a result, an ever-shifting cast of substitutes has filled the teaching posts in low-income neighborhoods.

In January, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge William F. Highberger approved a settlement of a lawsuit initiated by the American Civil Liberties Union, joined by two law firms. They said the last hired, first fired layoffs, forcing out potentially talented and motivated teachers, disproportionately damaged the education of poor kids. The judge agreed.

That should have been the end of it. But at L.A. Unified, nothing ends. Despite the court decision, layoff warnings—known as Reduction In Force or RIF notices-- went out to low-seniority teachers.

“Of 39 teachers, 20 got RIF notices,” Georgia Lazo, principal of the UCLA Community School, told me. The Kennedy complex serves a low-income area. “It would mean the decimation of our program” She said the teachers had been carefully selected on their ability with bilingual students, to “take a risk” with innovative teaching methods, to collaborate with other faculty members and to teach with a feeling for social justice. It would take time, she said, to replace such a faculty. The RIF notices, she said, have greatly upset the faculty—a situation I’m sure is true at all the other schools.

Why, in view of the judge’s decision, would L.A. Unified sent out the RIF notices to faculty in protected schools? Gale Pollard Terry, a district spokesperson, said the notices were “precautionary” because “there was a chance there will be an appeal.” If the appeal wins, then the district would return to last hired, first fired and the young teachers would be laid off.

The union, the United Teachers of Los Angeles, is against the Highberger settlement of the ACLU case and is expected to appeal. The union is a staunch defender of last hired, first fired. Until the union files an appeal and the courts decide, L.A. Unified is content to let these young teachers nervously await their fate. It’s the safe, bureaucratic way of doing things—the L.A. Unified way.

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