The court fight over layoffs of teachers at three schools exposes the contradictions of liberal dogma, especially the mayor’s own roles over the years as a teacher union organizer, ACLU official, state legislator and wannabe master of the LAUSD.
The heart of the matter raised in the ACLU’s lawsuit is that UTLA-won job protection provisions in teacher contracts with LAUSD and enshrined in state law by Democrats beholden to the California Teachers Association is that the district doesn’t assign teachers to where they are needed. Instead, teachers are hired by principals who naturally choose the best and brightest with the most experience.
The result is that schools in safer and more affluent neighborhoods get the cream of the crop and the most impacted schools in the most dangerous neighborhoods get the dregs and the inexperienced and often poorly trained teachers.
And when it comes to layoffs, it’s last-in, first out so schools with the greatest need get even worse faculties as they lose young teachers and wind up substitutes and dumps from better schools.
This has gone on for years without a peep from the ACLU or the mayor.
Beth Barrett in the LA Weekly digs into what has happened in a story headlined “On the Backs of Children — How UTLA’s teacher-layoff rules are devastating inner-city L.A. schools.”
This isn’t a new phenomena. It was true before LAUSD ran up a $650 million deficit and needed to layoff junior teachers. It’s worse now.
“The dual rules protect employees, not students, ” Barrett reports. “The dirty secret is that many veteran teachers prefer to work in nicer areas with less crime and more attractive surroundings, where students are better-behaved and better-educated. They choose West L.A., for example, or Woodland Hills, not Watts. When teacher layoffs come, L.A.’s middle-class schools are protected.”
Superintendent Ramon Cortines, the mayor’s appointee, seems to be of two minds on the issue. He supports job protections but adds that “there also needs to be some flexibility, where principals can hire and retain the people they think are the most qualified.”
He is not alone in being timid about how to fix the problem that has led to as many as 72 percent of the teachers facing layoffs at the three schools designated in the ACLU lawsuit — Liechty, Gompers and Markham, the latter two under the control of the Mayor’s Partnership for Schools.
UTLA head A.J. Duffy is all for negotiating a solution that is “good for students and fair for teachers.”
“We must continue to work together to challenge this system and prevent
disproportionate layoffs from happening year after year at the highest
needs schools,” the mayor said after a judge issued a preliminary injunction Wednesday to stop the layoffs temporarily. “We must continue to work together to protect our schools’
greatest assets – their teachers.”
The solution Duffy articulates and the mayor and Cortines would like to see isn’t changes in the work rules but more money from taxpayers so they can keep on negotiating unaffordable contracts and protect poor teachers.
LAUSD has put a $100 a property parcel tax on the June ballot — the most regressive tax imaginable since a 50-story office building downtown pays the same amount as the owner of a cottage in Watts. For his part, Duffy doesn’t understand why the state facing continuing massive budget deficits doesn’t just raise taxes to provide more money for schools.
Yet, when it comes to real reforms that would allow LAUSD to assign skilled teachers to where they are needed to create balance, the education lobby is nowhere to be found.
When it comes to limiting tenure protections or developing an evaluation system that would allow bad teachers to be fired or rewarding outstanding teachers with merit pay, they are nowhere to be found.
The “dance of the lemons” and the near impossibility of firing incompetents and even child molesters is well documented.
It is an inescapable fact that for all their rhetoric about how much they care about kids, the mayor and the education lobby have resisted all real reforms. They are protecting the very system that has failed for decades now because their solution is always more money, not reform.
For instance, SB 955, backed by the governor, would give districts more flexibility to deviate from seniority laws and allow assignment of teachers based on performance and the needs of schools.
It actually passed out of committee last month on a 5-4 vote but state Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg derailed it in the face of opposition from the CTA, one of the biggest spending lobbies in Sacramento. A watered-down version might come back to save political face.
Democrats have the power to fix the system rather than asking taxpayers for more money but that would take the courage to stand up for what is right and necessary.
Instead, the mayor and ACLU have gone to court arguing the disparity in our schools is unconstitutional, and asking the judge to find a solution.
What ought to be unconstitutional is contracts and laws that protect the incompetent and perpetuate the failure of our schools to educate our children.