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When Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) teacher Erika Jones received a Reduction in Force (RIF) notice three years ago, she was shocked. She even cried.
The second time, the 32-year-old Arminta Elementary educator was prepared for it. But when the six-year teacher was handed a pink slip for the third time in a row, she was just plain mad.
“Being RIF’ed sucks,” Jones told a crowd of hundreds of teachers, students, parents and other supporters at a rally Tuesday outside the LAUSD Headquarters at 333 S. Beaudry Ave.
After finishing her day of teaching at her North Hollywood school, Jones joined the teeming mass of red-clad protesters with bullhorns and whistles marching around the LAUSD offices in reaction to RIF negotiations and Gov. Jerry Brown’s May budget revisions – which include higher than expected tax revenues.
At the rally, A.J. Duffy, president of the Unified Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA), called the governor’s budget announcement “a real game changer” for negotiations with the LAUSD.
As a result of Brown’s updated budget, the UTLA said that more than $300 million could be deposited into the depleted LAUSD coffers, which are reportedly staring down a $408 million hole for the coming year.
“We wanted to send a message to the board that with the extra $300 million-plus they [LAUSD] will be getting in the new budget, that they should do the right thing with that money,” Gregg Solkovits, UTLA secondary vice president said. “We have a forensic accountant and we have gone over the district’s books over and over again. Bottom line is we have identified about $120 million in different pots of money the district could use without any problem.”
With that cash, in addition to a surplus from the current year’s budget from furlough days being taken now, the UTLA insists that every one of the 7,302 teachers, counselors, administrators and support staff who have received RIF notices can be saved without taking further furloughs.
However, according to the LAUSD, if all unions agreed to take six furlough days, the district would be able to save about $90 million and 80 percent of school-based positions set for layoffs on June 30.
“We can do what is best for our students and undo many very painful cuts by combining the state’s promised release of cash to replace deferrals, savings from a reduced number of furlough days, projected year-end balances and other district funds,” LAUSD Superintendent John Deasy said. “We are also reducing the financial sacrifices asked of all our employees towards achieving our mutual goals of balancing our deficit and saving jobs and services to the public.”
Five other labor unions, not including the UTLA, have tentatively agreed to Deasy’s six-day furlough proposal, which is a decrease from the original 12 sought by the district.
But, the UTLA’s position is that while the district officials continue to focus on furlough days as a solution they are ignoring other financial strategies. And, even if the six-day furloughs are approved only about 3,200 positions will be saved.
“Our main priority is rescinding all the pink slips, so that our students won’t face higher class sizes and suffer the loss of valued teachers and programs,” Duffy said in a press release.
The five unions that have reached provisionary terms in negotiation include Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 99, Associated Administrators of Los Angeles (AALA), the Los Angeles School Police Association (LASPA), Unit E of the L.A./Orange Counties Building and Construction Trades Council representing skilled trade employees, and the Los Angeles School Police Sergeants and Lieutenants Association (LASPSLA).
To take effect, the tentative agreement needs membership approval, and also must be approved by the Los Angeles Board of Education. Negotiations continued Wednesday with both sides stressing urgency.
But Jones and others with recent seniority dates have gotten used to the RIF process over the past several years.
“However, this is the first time I have had so many people above me in seniority who have been RIF’ed,” Jones said.
Those being laid off are not all “young people”, Solkovits said. “If you take a look, about a third of them are second career people. It’s a false issue when the school board starts talking about laying off the young energetic teachers.”
At Fairfax High School, where nine teachers and counselors have received the lay-off notices, Principal Ed Zubiate said one point of anxiety is the fear that if the school board and teachers can come to an agreement to save their jobs, it may come too late.
“The displaced people won’t be laid off, but will have to leave the school and end up somewhere else,” Zubiate explained.
On Friday, the schools are required to put out a master schedule for the upcoming year, but if a teacher fails to get an assignment and their RIF is not rescinded until after July 1, they may lose their right to return to the same school and will be placed accordingly across the district, Zubiate said.
Standing near the entrance of the district offices, 29-year LAUSD teacher Glenn Shockley, a seasoned veteran of many L.A. education battles, said hello to nearly every passer by on the protest line while crying out against the school district’s current direction.
“This board, right now, has decided to cut education budgets and teachers and demand at the exact same time that teachers perform better,” said Shockley, who drove more than 30 miles to the protest after teaching at Chatsworth High School. “How do you do that when you are talking to classes of forty-five or larger? It’s not possible.”
“Our job is to socialize and culturalize the upcoming generations; it’s not to make test takers. The public could care less about test takers. We need people who are going to be genuine citizens for the state of California. The whole concept is to make sure we bring forth the greater tax payer, not the tax sucker,” Shockley said. “This building doesn’t understand that. This building and the seven members that we have on the Board of Education seem to have lost sight of that.”
Among the emotionally charged, almost celebratory atmosphere of the protest, RIF’ed teachers who would normally be at home planning their students’ future were questioning their own.
“Should I be getting my resume together?” Jones asked.
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