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Budget Doublespeak: Less Money, More Change

March 26, 2012

Teachers in LAUSD kind of dodged a bullet this month, but it will likely ricochet back in ways we will not like.  Our school board approved a budget based on the hope  that voters will provide more tax money for education.  The two tax proposals currently on the table are far from perfect (they are a start!) but they won’t keep us from stoking the fire and finding new ways to point the finger at each other.  Is this what the public truly wants? Is this what benefits children most?

First, we have had one-third of our educational force pink-slipped.  Over eleven thousand Reduction in Force notices went out this month to various professionals and a teaching body numbering about 33,000.  Until LAUSD openly shares budget numbers, why would we subject ourselves to believing such a massive reduction is necessary?  Union president Warren Fletcher reported at January’s house of representatives meeting that the state’s budget for us yielded $4,845 per student, while the district’s figures showed $4,638.  Mr. Fletcher notes this barely triggers four furlough days, but our district is insisting on huge layoffs in addition to SIX furlough days.  Why is it so difficult to do the math?

This hysteria has teachers scrambling in an environment where both children and teachers have been abused.  This makes for severe dysfunction in unnamable ways.  Because of the Miramonte school scandal, my file is open and my principals, past and present, are being encouraged to scour it for possible offenses.  Kids know this.  The highly-challenged ones who are not responding to instruction, encouragement or discipline have only to charge me with unfairness, racism or worse to avoid academic responsibility.   I can only imagine what my colleagues in more challenging schools are facing.  Indeed, when I hear stories of over-entitled students running amok and the lack of administrative support, I can only wonder why they stay in the classroom at all.

This also leads to the question of seniority-based layoffs and proper evaluation.  The current financial condition of our district and the struggles outlined above are only being exacerbated by the federal government’s offer to provide Race to the Top money predicated on value-added test scores.  So now we are looking down the barrel of Academic Growth over Time (AGT) being included, by default, in our evaluations and as a condition of employment.  I really appreciate my mayor coming out and saying that teacher dismissals must be efficient – I agree with him there – but won’t they please try to follow the rules about the evaluation system we should already have in place before imposing AGT?  I’ve been doing serious work along with an analyst from the mayor’s Partnership for Los Angeles Schools (PLAS) in order to track my own students’ achievement over time; the PLAS has also taken a leading role in pioneering a new teacher evaluation system spearheaded by our superintendent.  There is still a lot to be worked out on both fronts.  Can we just load the cart before attaching the horse?

Recently in San Francisco the layoff game played out the way it very likely will here; layoffs slips were sent out that will likely be rescinded at the last moment by someone’s permission to use “rainy day” funding, saving the day, appearing a hero.  What a game.

The other thing happening in the city by the bay is that certain high-needs schools are being exempted from layoffs, much the same way the Reed vs. State of California did here in LA last year.  While the SF union chief protested the “arbitrary” protection of socio-economically disadvantaged, younger-staffed schools, he hasn’t applied to the courts to repeal that protection.  My own union has appealed a 2011 California Supreme Court decision that protects ALL teachers at our 45 hardest-to-staff schools, in favor of seniority-based layoffs.  Why would we eat our young teachers this way?  Why would we contribute to the public’s perception that as a union we are only interested in protecting adults?  A judge will review Reed v. State of California this summer, extending the uncertainty right up to the start of school.  I know there will be fallout, but I agreed to be a named client on an amicus curiae brief supporting the rights of children to an education over my own right to a job.  Again, how much of this frenzy is being fed in the name of funding?  Re-reading You, Me and AGT sends a shiver of despair through me.  Classroom teachers are despairing because they believe they have no voice in these matters.

Acknowledge your junior teachers who dedicate so much of themselves; encourage them to participate in their unions and speak their views.   Report abuse and address inappropriate behavior that violates the learning environment, both for children and for teachers – we are harassed too.  Put pressure on administrators to uphold discipline and proper evaluation. Be active in your union – at least read the publications and vote whenever you get the opportunity.  Finally, find out which tax reform initiative you can get behind and talk about it.

Think. Decide. Vote.

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