Is the end in sight? Recapping an eventful day

El Dorado teachers protest layoffs during public comment.

I’m not sure whether tonight’s headline should be “Board approves 349 permanent layoff notices” or “District, teachers union reach ‘conceptual’ agreement.” Both are true, and equally newsworthy to readers of this blog.

I’m going to give a lot of credit to the leadership of UESF, who persevered and got to an agreement they could take back to their membership after many long and inconclusive hours at the negotiating table. This agreement, subject to ratification by the union membership in coming days, took shape just minutes before tonight’s Board meeting convened. I can’t give many details, but I can say that it keeps elementary class sizes at current levels through the 2010-11 school year. I can also say that earlier today, any agreement looked far away indeed.  So kudos to the union leaders and to district staff, equally bleary-eyed after a very long and sometimes bitter negotiation. I truly hope the membership will agree that what UESF leadership will present is the best that could be wrought under the circumstances we find ourselves in.

Unfortunately, there will still be layoffs. Unlike almost any other urban district in California, we have not had to confront layoffs in recent years due to the City’s Rainy Day Fund.  But that fund is now depleted, and it is unfortunately time to face what others across the state have been dealing with for at least the past 18 months, if not longer. First, let’s review the numbers:

  • $113 million — the amount of the district’s projected budget shortfall through 2010-11;
  • $3.6 billion — the shortfall between the estimated 2010-11 state revenues in the Governor’s January budget and the current estimate expected to be released in Friday’s May Revise (which could mean additional cuts);
  • $18.1 million — the amount the school district received from the Rainy Day Fund in 2008-09
  • $24.5 million — the amount the school district received from the Rainy Day Fund in 2009-10;
  • $6 million — the amount the school district expects to receive from the Rainy Day Fund in 2010-11;
  • 502 — number of FTE positions sent preliminary (“March 15”) layoff notices for 2010-11;
  • 348.72 — number of FTE positions to be sent permanent (“May 15”) notices for 2010-11.

Of course, going from 502 to just under 350 is good, but nothing to celebrate over. Once the “conceptual agreement” between the district and UESF is ratified, district staff said, the number of FTEs holding permanent layoff notices should decrease to 195 or so. That’s better, but still not something anyone will feel good about.  Chief Administrative Officer Roger Buschmann told the Board tonight that this number — 195 FTEs holding permanent layoff notices — could go even lower as the summer progresses.

In attendance at tonight’s meeting were many teachers who urged us to say no to all the layoff notices, I guess because they were under the impression that we had a choice.  We didn’t. In the end, five out of the six Commissioners in attendance voted in favor of issuing permanent layoff notices — not because we wanted to or because doing so gives us any kind of tactical advantage, but because it is the only way to keep the district safe from the possibility of state takeover.

The largest contingent of commenters were from El Dorado Elementary, a school that has been disproportionately affected by the current round of layoff notices. I give the El Dorado staff a great deal of credit for shining a hard light on the equity issues that arise when 67% of the teachers and other staff at a hard-to-staff school receive layoff notices. I admire the way they have hung together and supported each other through this stressful year, and I appreciate their ongoing commitment to their students and to their school. They are absolutely right that it makes no sense to give teachers stipends and extra professional development to work at hard-to-staff schools if you are just going to turn around and lay them off a year or two later.

The El Dorado staff is stwrongly under the impression that if the district had made different choices, all the layoffs at their school would be unnecessary. First they said we could have skipped their school with layoff notices (we couldn’t, under state law). Then they said we spent too much money on consultants (really?) Tonight they said the layoffs would have a huge impact on the children who attend their school, and on that I couldn’t agree with them more. Most of us on the Board believe strongly that a great injustice will be done if the El Dorado layoffs stand (I have some hope that they will not, based on the implications of the conceptual agreement between the union and the district).  But it’s simply wrong to say that it would be possible for us to spare El Dorado — or any other school — from the impact of cuts totaling $1,365 per student in just the current year.

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3 responses to “Is the end in sight? Recapping an eventful day

  1. nmw, yes — sorry for the confusion. The district sent out 700-odd layoff notices but 200 were automatically rescinded off the top by the Administrative Law Judge who presided over the hearings convened by UESF to challenge various aspects (this is a routine maneuver in any layoff). I am not clear on why, since the ALJ generally upheld the district’s side in the issues challenged by UESF, but in any event, going into Tuesday evening there were 502 “intent to lay off” notices still outstanding. The Board’s action reduced that number to 349 permanent layoffs.

  2. I thought that the district had sent out a little over 700 initial (March 15th) layoff notices, not 502? Is this discrepancy because of the number of actual people vs. FTE’s?

  3. Of the numerous speakers from El Dorado, at most one mentioned consultants. We brought up equity. We quoted the District’s own strategic plan. We noted the lack of followthrough and the disturbing obscurity around budgeting.

    However, it is quite true that we do not believe that the District has examined all of its financial options. Nor do we believe that the District has shared adequate financial information for anyone using publicly-available data to feel confident in its decisions. When SFUSD moves in ways that clearly subvert its own stated goals, it should expect rigorous questioning.

    Moreover, it must be noted that legal cases exist because parties do not agree on the interpretation of law.

    It is of deep concern to me as a stakeholder in SFUSD that its leadership can only find within itself the strength to do what it takes to increase access, equity and accountability in good budget years. Similarly, it is disheartening and unworthy of the teachers who work in “hard-to-staff” schools to fail to take any responsibility for the widening opportunity gap in San Francisco Unified.