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California Urged To Address Teacher-Layoff Policies

An analysis from California's Legislative Analyst's Office urges the state to consider revamping its teacher-layoff policies, including reducing the emphasis on seniority.

The report makes nonpartisan advisory group the latest to tackle the controversial topics.

While seniority-based layoff decisions are transparent and objective, they can also reduce the overall level of teacher effectiveness and result in staff displacement as more-senior teachers "bump" others from their positions, the analysis states. It also notes that California's law is more prescriptive than most states' laws, which leave the decision on how to perform layoffs up to school districts.

The report concludes by suggesting that the state help districts and unions to negotiate their own criteria. Right now, that's only allowable in a few specific instances, so the LAO suggests expanding those options.

The seniority-based layoff topic has been quite a controversial one in California, even engendering a lawsuit in Los Angeles that ended up shielding some low-income schools that would have lost half or more of their staff under the rules.

This year, the San Francisco school board took a similar action to protect 14 low-income schools. The city teachers' union has blasted the plans.

Seniority remains something of a sacred cow for teachers' unions nationwide, too, with even those that have been willing to play with new pay and evaluation systems, such as in Pittsburgh, resisting attempts to do away with seniority layoff systems.

The report also criticizes the state's mandatory pink-slip deadline, which requires districts to send the notices far in advance of the budgetary process, by March 15. California has one of the earliest dates of all the states.

"The state layoff deadlines force districts to make layoff determinations too early without accurate fiscal information. Additionally, critical local information, such as the number of teachers that will leave the district or retire, is typically not available by the time school districts are required to make layoff decisions," the report states.

Based on its analysis of state office, the LAO says that about half of every 10 pink slipped teachers are given final layoff notices, but only two or three aren't rehired by the beginning of the next school year.

Last year, I filed a story about the effects of this policy in Los Angeles, and it's clear that it's driven both teachers and the district's human-resources staff batty,

The report recommends pushing back the pink-slip deadline until June 1, when districts should have a better grasp on their budgets. And there's been some mixed reaction to that idea, too. Will Carless, who's been doing some great investigative reporting at the Voice of San Diego, has caught the San Diego teachers' unions in a bit of a contradiction. The union supported moving up the deadline, but later attached a rather large condition to the idea—no layoffs at all.

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