Feb 28 meeting recap: layoffs will skip Superintendent’s Zone schools

Despite some tears and a few tense exchanges between Board members and union leadership, the Board tonight voted 5-1 (Fewer, Mendoza, Norton, Wynns and Yee in favor, Maufas opposed, Murase absent) to:

  • Issue preliminary layoff notices to 123 administrators and 210 instructional staff (teachers, nurses, counselors, etc), as well as 35 early education employees and 106 paraprofessionals (91 others will see their hours potentially reduced);
  • Conduct layoffs according to seniority but skip certain high-need credential areas (math, science, bilingual or special education) and all teachers working in the 14 Superintendent’s Zone schools (they are: Bryant ES, Bret Harte ES, Cesar Chavez ES, Carver ES, Drew ES, Flynn ES, John Muir ES, Malcolm X ES, Paul Revere K-8, Horace Mann/Buena Vista K-8, Everett MS, Mission HS, Thurgood Marshall HS, and John O’Connell HS).
  • The HR department presentation with data/logistics is here.

No one likes layoffs, and authorizing the issuance of layoff notices is the toughest vote the Board takes each year. The process is flawed in many ways — the state doesn’t pass a budget until June (or often later) and yet state law requires districts to notify employees in March if they might not have a job in August.  Uncertainty is bad for individual employees, for the administrators who don’t know who will staff their classrooms in the coming year, and for students who don’t know if their teachers will be there for them when they come back after the summer. 

This year, the annual layoff discussion came with the added twist of skipping the Superintendent’s Zone (SZ) schools. The Superintendent created the SZ in the 2010-11 school year, in an attempt to better focus resources on the district’s lowest performing schools and most underserved neighborhoods. The correlation isn’t perfect — there are a number of low-performing, high-need schools (El Dorado ES and Cleveland ES come to mind) that aren’t in the SZ, and some of the SZ schools are not low-performing (Malcolm X). However, the general idea behind the SZ is that schools (and students) in the Bayview and Mission neighborhood need extra attention and resources.

There has been confusion over the SZ, partly relating to the fact that our SIG schools — designated by the state and Federal government as some of the state’s lowest-performing schools deserving of highly-restricted but generous restructuring grants — are a subset of SZ schools. So, SIG schools get money that other SZ schools don’t get, and that money is governed by a separate (and strict) set of rules. In addition,  after the passage of Prop. A in 2008,  the Superintendent is allowed to unilaterally designate 25 schools “hard-to-staff” and offer teachers in those schools additional salary for teaching there.  All SZ schools are hard-to-staff, but not all hard-to-staff schools are SZ. Get it?

Still, the bottom line for the Superintendent in making the proposal to skip the SZ schools from layoffs was that we have invested millions of dollars in additional salary, professional development, and other resources in the chief asset of the SZ schools: their people. To simply drop them into a seniority-based layoff, he argued, would represent a waste of that investment.

The union leadership had its deeply-felt arguments as well: the annual layoff dance is akin to fighting over crumbs, when the real fight is better waged in Sacramento; and seniority is a bedrock issue for teacher unity — dividing the district’s teacher corps across schools is a strategy that demoralizes staff across the district and doesn’t address the real problem, which is that schools improve when we invest resources in them. Besides, there are many other struggling schools (the aforementioned El Dorado and Cleveland being excellent examples) which will now suffer a greater impact from layoffs because their equally-junior colleagues down the road will be skipped. To the teacher’s union, the Superintendent’s arguments were simply a divide and conquer strategy that represent a shot across the bow in yet another tough contract negotiation year.

Make no mistake, the decision to ask the Board to approve a wider authority for skips this year was provocative — the district created the SZ in 2010-11 but did not at that time articulate a plan to use it to make a case for “special skills and competencies” (the legal standard required under CA law to skip a teacher in a seniority-based layoff).  In February 2011, when we were asked to approve the layoff criteria for the current school year, SZ schools were not established as a skip criteria. There has never been a clearly-published criteria for what makes a school an SZ school, nor one for determining when a school has improved to the point that it is no longer eligible for the SZ.  Putting all of this together, tonight’s vote was a very bitter pill for the union to swallow, and the leadership let us know that they did not appreciate it.

So . . . my reasons? I had a hard time with this and spent a lot of time today trying to find a way to remain true to my commitment to support teachers in all of our schools, as well as my commitments to the students in our lowest-performing schools and poorest neighborhoods. I thought hard about a potential compromise — skipping just the nine SIG schools rather than all 14 SZ schools, but realized that such a move would create a disproportionate impact on four Bayview schools in the SZ — Charles Drew, Malcolm X, Bret Harte, and Thurgood Marshall. In the end, I found I accepted the need for layoffs should our budget picture become the worst case scenario, and decided to go with the lesser of two evils: a layoff strategy that preserves our investments in 14 of the district’s most struggling schools, as opposed to a layoff strategy that could, when all is said and done, put those investments at risk. Hopefully, if the district accesses the City’s Rainy Day Fund and reaches agreements with our unions that put additional money on the table, few or no layoffs will be necessary; but we won’t know that for a few more months.

Finally, I want to commend my colleagues for their respectful, thoughtful and heartfelt discussion on this very difficult issue tonight. Commissioner Fewer deserves special mention for going first and taking the most heat for her passionate and forthright stance. Her actions tonight took great courage, and made it a little easier for everyone else to stand with her.

But wait there’s more! Transportation policy update

We were all pretty much in a daze after taking the required four (count ‘em, four!) votes on the various aspects of the layoffs, so it came as a surprise to me that a lengthy update on General Education transportation policy had also been scheduled for tonight’s meeting — somehow I missed it in the agenda!

But this was an important update as well — many more schools will see transportation cuts next year according to the schedule first announced in December 2010.  The following elementary schools are expected to lose transportation entirely in the 2012-13 school year, subject to final approval in mid-March: Alamo, Argonne, Buena Vista, Cleveland, El Dorado, Glen Park, Hillcrest, Lafayette, McKinley, New Traditions, Ortega, Parks, Redding, Sheridan, Starr King, Stevenson, Taylor, Tenderloin, Ulloa, Vis Valley.

A number of other schools will gain routes, in order to maintain or expand access to specific citywide programs (language immersion, K-8) from CTIP-1 neighborhoods.

For those seeking more information about ongoing transportation cuts/realignment, here is the Powerpoint presented to the Board this evening.

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11 responses to “Feb 28 meeting recap: layoffs will skip Superintendent’s Zone schools

  1. Pingback: Budget Doublespeak: Less Money, More Change « InterACT

  2. Rachel,
    Basically, if I’m understanding your rationale, you feel the district is investing more in the SZ schools than it is investing in other hard-to-staff schools. The “reward” those same “not-as-investe- in” HARD-TO-STAFF schools will recieve is more pink slips due to the skip clause “special skills and competencies”. And so those who DO invest in those hard-to-staff schools, the parents, teachers, and students who love their schools and work hard – apply for donors choose, attend many extra professional developments, collaborate with peers and the community relentlessly (and therefore building their special skills and competencies w/o costing the district alot of money) – will be the hardest hit and demoralized.

    I think I remember a full contingent of El Dorado staff asking the board to skip them last year under the same “special skills and competencies” clasue. The board couldn’t do it when the professionals in the classroom asked them to do it. The board is more inclined, when money talks, and those who sit behind the big desks instead of those who stand and sit with the students ask.

    I’m sure your intentions are good but it does seem that you haven’t gotten it quite right yet. Are we doing what is right and socially resposible in SFUSD? Or, are we making it appear so as we let the pocketbook do the decision-making?

  3. @Anna — Another valid criticism of the SZ — there’s no clear process for getting out of it or moving new schools in. BVHM is a SIG school for three years (the life of the SIG grant) and then the money is gone. Anyway, the SIG rules are VERY strict and you cannot move the money to other schools.

  4. Hi Renee – there is the beginnings of a process described in the presentation I attached at the end of the blog post. I agree that losing transportation is very disruptive for families who depend on it. There will be more discussion of these plans when they are finalized in Mid-March and I know the district staff is aware of the need to be very diligent in helping families understand their options — not just email and flyers, but (as one of the Coleman organizers pointed out Tuesday evening) almost a case management strategy for affected families to help them meet this new challenge.

  5. Buena Vista got hitched to Horace Mann, and in one swell swoop, Horace Mann will probably meet their goal of getting off the SIG list… HM still gets all the SIG money.

    So… how is HM/BV still on the Superintendant zone. That is completely unfair to other schools, you said it yourself El Dorado or Cleveland, amongst others.

    Some of that SIG money designed to improve HM -= ie to reach those neediest students, should go to other MS’s who will be picking up those students.. remember those students who would have gone to HM (and bring with them their needs) are now going to other MS, since they are not part of the SI track. Hope the Superintendanant and anyone else with decision making authority gets it. Parents and community, we got it.

    Nothing against BV, more power to them. That is not the issue here. Lots of pressing needs, very limited resources.

  6. Rachel,
    Another point which I have mentioned before. Mandarin Immersion is the only language program (offered at Starr King and Jose Ortega) which does not have transportation from a strategic area (a place where Mandarin-only speaking families might live like Vis Valley or possibly Chinatown) to either school. This has negatively impacted the program’s ability to attract native Mandarin speaking famlies whose learning should be supported in Mandarin.

  7. Rachel, Is there a proces in place to notify families who regularly use the yellow bus of the transportation changes? I am a Starr King parent who is fearful that not all of our families will get properly notified (and also what their options are if they are 100% dependant on that transportation to get to school). I

  8. Ugh. I hope that MUNI comes up with free rides for kids. The cost of transport wan’t something that I ever thought of when checking out schools, (oh I’ve learned a lot in public school) but I’ve already seen a number of families leave because they couldn’t afford the transport cost. There are families who rely on the bus to get to our school and the after school programs at the CDC’s on the bus route. Can we expect more enrollment shifts? What will happen with the kids in the off-site after school programs?

  9. I understand, but PR has the same kind of diversity, and is not being cut. I am curious if they will be ADDING for our school too because the streets are quite narrow. As far as I know, the busses are not very crowded and we have a lot of small busses too. most of the school’s adjacent streets are now bus zones. anyhoo!

  10. @BernalMummy, it’s been a while since I delved into the implementation of our transportation cuts, so I’m not sure of the specific rationale for each school affected. My guess, for BV, is that it is already in an area with lots of kids, and does not need busing to provide access to a diverse group of families. I have a similar guess for Starr King – Potrero Hill is actually quite diverse, with million dollar homes on one side of the hill and housing projects on the other, so busing wouldn’t be needed to support diversity.
    I do notice that there is a proposed bus from Starr King to Aptos, which would allow families who attend Starr King for elementary to more easily access their feeder middle school.

  11. I am curious about the transportation plan. Why is Buena Vista losing it’s transportation if the goal is to increase access to city wide schools? Is BV not a city wide school since it is immersion? Same with Starr King?