Skips, bumps and seniority: how layoffs work

My commenters from El Dorado Elementary have angrily alleged that the district chose to focus the brunt of layoffs on hard-to-staff schools, pointing to a legal precedent in the case of Bledsoe v Biggs Unified School District (2008) 170 Cal. App. 4th 127 (skip to page 8 for the discussion of the case).

The teachers say this precedent gives our district the right to skip certain teachers without respect to seniority, and say that the fact that 60 percent of the staff  at El Dorado (or 67 percent of the teachers, depending on what you use as the base of your percentages) received pink slips shows that the district has abandoned the ideals of “Beyond the Talk.”

Strong words. I haven’t appreciated some of the accusations that have been leveled at me (for example, that I was spreading “misinformation” because I used the 60 percent figure), but whatever. They’re angry, they’re facing the loss of their jobs, and they’re mourning the likely breakup of a dedicated and idealistic staff team– so I guess I can take it. I did, however, ask the district’s legal counsel for an opinion on how Bledsoe v. Biggs applies to our current situation. Are the El Dorado elementary teachers correct that we have ignored a legal precedent that would save teachers currently working at hard-to-staff schools?
In a word, according to our general counsel, no. Here’s why:

  • In the Bledsoe v Biggs case, the district “skipped” teachers at its community day school (a school for students expelled from other sites). A more senior teacher asserted the right to bump. Notably, the court found that the senior teacher was both credentialed and competent to hold the position. However, the district successfully avoided the bump by showing that the more junior, skipped teacher possessed unique training and experience for teaching in that environment that the more senior teacher did not possess.  At our hard-to-staff schools, we do not currently require that teachers have special training or credentials to take a position. They do receive additional professional development and stipends after they begin teaching at a hard-to-staff school, but we do not require that professional development as a condition for beginning employment at the school.
  • We have instituted “skips” for particular kinds of “hard-to-fill” subjects or credential areas:  BCLAD (bilingual), special education, and single-subject math or science credentials, for example. But even within those skipped areas, more senior teachers have bumping rights. As an illustration, last week I was contacted by a special education teacher who could not understand why he received a pink slip. After the Human Resources department investigated, we were told that because there are administrators who received pink slips that also hold a special education credential, those employees could conceivably have the right to “bump” into special education classroom jobs to avoid a layoff. Hence, a handful of special education teachers still received pink slips despite the skip (the teacher who contacted me was senior enough that after the investigation, HR rescinded his layoff even though they concluded he was properly noticed in the first place). The bottom line: a job at one of our hard-to-staff schools is not the same–in the eyes of the law–as a job in a hard-to-fill area, in terms of the specific training and credential required. In addition, more senior teachers who hold the same credential as the “skipped” employee are still able to “bump” into his or her position in a layoff. Since teachers at hard-to-staff schools hold the same credential as their colleagues at other schools, they would not be protected from being skipped in a layoff because they could still be bumped by more senior teachers who received layoff notices.
  • As noted above, teachers are only permitted to bump into position that they are credentialed and competent to fill, and the district does have broad authority to decide what “competency” is for its teachers. Recently, for example, we decreed that all teachers employed by the district must have the CLAD credential (now required by the state for any teacher who works with English Language Learners). As a result, teachers who earned a credential before the CLAD was required (and did not go back and get the CLAD certification later) are no longer “competent” to teach in our district. However, competency criteria must apply equally to all staff. A competency requirement that would protect staff at hard-to-staff schools (such as requiring experience teaching in a hard-to-staff school) would result in finding the majority of the District’s staff to be not competent. Such a requirement would probably not survive a legal challenge.

The fact that I think the counsel’s analysis is sound does not mean I like it, or that I think it’s fair that 67% of El Dorado’s teachers received pink slips.  I think we should work on a side agreement with UESF that would enable us to go as a team to the legislature and request a legislative solution that saves teachers who choose to work at hard-to-staff schools.   I am also following the national conversation on alternative ways of conducting layoffs, and I hope there is a way that our labor unions will feel they can eventually participate in such a conversation (probably now is not the best time, since we are in the midst of a very difficult negotiation). Seniority is a major pillar of the labor movement, and it’s not the cause of all the ills in our schools –it’s not helpful to to blame our labor contracts for disproportionate layoffs at hard-to-staff schools,  just as it isn’t helpful to blame the district for the sad situation we’re in.

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8 responses to “Skips, bumps and seniority: how layoffs work

  1. I’m with John. The Board has to go with the safest route. If members of UESF want to lobby to change the state law, then that’s great. But we don’t have that luxury now.

  2. In this budget situation, it would be irresponsible if the board does anything other than the safest route. Maybe some others may think differently about the issue, but I will bet if the district ignores the seniority rule, the union WILL bring suit to the court.

    So, Jennifer, unfortunately I think the union must initiate the process if you want anything done on this issue. Have you talked to your union respresentitive? What’s the union’s stand on this?

  3. Elizabeth, just to be clear, the idea of swapping furloughs for class size increases is not a decision the district can make unilaterally. It will have to be negotiated with United Educators of San Francisco, the union that represents our teachers and paraprofessionals.

  4. Jennifer, I’m not quite sure how to answer you. You say that “others” — I’d be curious which educational equity organizations and specifically about what they are claiming about the state’s seniority laws — disagree with the SFUSD legal counsel’s opinion. Fair enough, I guess, but as a member of the school board it would be reckless of me to rely on the opinions of “others” who face no consequences — for example — if I were to put the district financially or legally at risk by following their counsel instead of that provided by the board’s legal advisor. If you think that position is false, naive or whatever else, I guess we will have to agree to disagree.
    I do continue to resent the implication that somehow this decision was easy for me, and that I am unaware of its consequences and impact on students in our district. I can assure you — it was not easy and I am very aware that there are many losers and no winners here. I’m regretful that I felt no choice but to make this decision; nevertheless I believe I did the best I could with the information available to me.
    Thank you for instructing me on the perils of holding public office. I can assure you, I am aware of these perils. I have also subjected myself to additional perils by engaging in some back and forth on this blog and attempting to shed some light on the board’s decision-making.
    Despite the stress and uncertainty you and your colleagues are enduring at the moment, I wish you all a happy and healthy Spring Break.

  5. I saw on your school lunch post that the district is considering increasing the furlough days to 4 rather than increasing class sizes, which would save 75 teachers. YES! Please do this instead!

    Having a smaller class for the other 176 school days would be worth the 4 furlough days alone, but if it would also save 75 teachers, then I can’t think of any reasons not to make that trade!

  6. I have no affiliation of El Dorado. I am only a resident of the city that cares about education. You are clearly thoughtful and committed to acting in the best interests of the families that SFUSD is designed to serve. Your regular posts have proven that.

    I would only submit that for many, living in San Francisco is a choice. And we choose to live here b/c we believe in an idea of what San Francisco offers. This city is to many a beacon of light in the search for progressive ideas.
    And on the most fundamental level, it has for some time been a city that, at least in theory, offers hope and opportunity for all regardless of income, gender, sexual preference or ethnicity.

    What is potentially happening to El Dorado and so many other schools goes against the very essence of what this city is supposed to represent for people.

    In short, we’re better than this. Please fight (and encourage others to fight) for these schools. Forget Labor. Forget “the way it is.”

    At the end of the day, we are talking about children. These children have less opportunity than most, but deserve better. They deserve a chance.

    Thanks for listening. And thanks again for your service and for all of your posts.

  7. the school board is allready reneging on it’s class size agreement with the union,so why not ignore the seniority rule while your at it.?

  8. Of course, this is the opinion of SFUSD’s legal department. Others (including some education equity groups unaffiliated with the pesky El Dorado crew) disagree – there is quite a lot of debate around this question presently

    You make an assertion here (union-blaming) that is not supported by evidence. I think I can speak for all El Dorado’s staff when I state we don’t blame our union, which is not responsible for SFUSD’s choices. We do fault SFUSD for its reluctance to act in ways that increase educational opportunity. I personally take issue with the suggestion that high-needs schools have lower-seniority staff for unknowable, unavoidable reasons.

    I appreciate that you have corrected the previous misinformation: “strict seniority” in layoffs and percentages of staff affected.

    However, one of the perils of public office is taking positions that others find problematic. I would argue that one of the requirements of good citizenship is to speak against those positions with which one disagrees. It is rather dismissive to say that the El Dorado staff is leveling accusations because of their pink slips. We are challenging the august opinion of the school board because we believe that SFUSD needs to go “Beyond the Talk” in good budget times as well as bad – and that its decisions don’t. We don’t blame SFUSD for the state underfunding education, but SFUSD must take responsibility for its choices.