Tag Archives: layoffs

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.

Saving the best for first: meeting recap

Tonight’s meeting started out great, and went downhill from there. First up: a unanimous vote in favor of a resolution to finally name School of the Arts after renowned artist, arts advocate and local treasure Ruth Asawa. Even Commissioner Wynns cried, and that takes some doing. It was a sweet moment.

Second: a resolution authored by Commissioners Fewer and Kim on establishing an Ethnic Studies course in every San Francisco high school.  The program would pilot at up to five high schools in 2010-11 and expand district wide in 2011-12. There are some very good reasons for implementing/expanding an Ethnic Studies program: for one thing, we need a 9th grade social studies course that will help prepare students for World History in the 10th grade. Second, students are clearly enthusiastic about the course, judging from the crowd that came out in support of the Fewer/Kim resolution — and increasing student engagement is a major goal for the Board. Third, SF State has offered our students college credit for passing the course, and significant help in getting the course started in SFUSD.  Still, I do have a few personal reservations about Ethnic Studies as a discipline. An email I received tonight from an administrator (a person who is committed to social justice and not at all a reactionary person) sums it up:

 ALL history classes should be reflective of the students’ history in the classroom. The danger with ethnic studies is that it takes everyone else off the hook. We should offer ethnic studies AND do a better job of integrating ethnic studies into everything else.

Commissioner Kim spoke eloquently tonight about being a product of Ethnic Studies, and movingly about discovering the words of Malcolm X and other great leaders and people of color.  I agree, it’s thrilling to read about people who have triumphed over oppression and led others out of oppression as well.  In my U.S. History courses, I learned about Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr. and Frederick Douglass, about the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II and about the oppression of Chinese-Americans even as they helped build California and other western states.  I learned about Navajo culture and about the Trail of Tears, and about American imperialism around the Pacific Rim and in Central America.  That history is all of our history, not isolated histories of isolated peoples. I hope we are not letting history off the hook or dividing the discipline into Ours and Theirs.

Anyway, I was a little taken aback when I was hissed by the crowd for simply asking how likely it was for an Ethnic Studies class to be approved by the UC system as meeting the UC system’s A-G requirements for entry (and graduation from SFUSD). This is not an idle question — we’ve tried several times without luck to have the class approved, and the resolution calls for the course to meet the “G” requirement.  In my question, I think I expressed clearly that I was OK with going ahead with a pilot, but that I was concerned about implementing the course district-wide without approval from UC that the course could meet A-G. Luckily, there was a UC representative in attendance who assured us that we could make the course meet A-G by introducing a co-requisite, like English or some other core course, to be taken concurrently with 9th grade ethnic studies.  Anyway, it’s fine to come to a Board meeting with a strong opinion, but it’s bad manners to hiss someone for asking a tough question.

The other issue for me was the budget, but the Budget Committee did a good job of coming up with a compromise that everyone could live with, so my concerns there were put to rest. Still, this is about $220,000 in new spending, and yes, we’ll have to cut something else to put it in place.  Final vote: 7-0.

Next up: a resolution authored by Commissioners Fewer, Kim and Maufas about expanding access to AP courses across the district. Now, this is a concept I strongly endorse. At CUBE last summer, several districts that are bigger, more diverse and lower-scoring than ours presented strong evidence that the challenges and academic rigor inherent in AP courses are very motivating and energizing for students, even when students don’t score well enough on the AP tests to earn college credit. The challenge and the rigor in and of themselves have a big motivating effect, and a positive effect on future achievement.  But–we’re in the middle of a budget crisis, and we can’t afford to do everything we know is right and beneficial for students. In the end, the authors amended the resolution to state the expansion of AP as a major priority for the Board, and directing the Superintendent to work on the issue, acknowledging our current budget constraints. Final vote: 7-0.

Then came the real fun of the evening: voting to authorize the district to issue layoff notices to hundreds of teachers, administrators and paraprofessionals. Members of UESF waited for hours during the earlier action items to argue in front of the Board that the district has not met its burden of proof, that we don’t have to issue layoff notices to paraprofessionals until April (certificated employees like teachers and principals must be notified by March 15, while paraprofessionals and other classified employees must be notified in late April– 45 days before the layoff date of June 30), and that the budget numbers are based on projections that may or may not come true.  I hate having to look our unions in the eye and vote the other way, and yet I don’t see that we have any choice at all. The budget is only going to get worse in the next six months, and while its true that we don’t have to issue paraprofessional layoff notices until April, I’m not sure what the point of waiting would be. Wouldn’t you rather know now that you’re getting a pink slip, rather than waiting until April to find out? Hopefully, we’ll be able to rescind at least some of the pink slips, but not nearly as many as we’ve been able to rescind in past years.  Pardon my language, but it sucks. Final vote: Authorizing paraprofessional layoffs 5-2 (Maufas and Kim voting no);  Authorizing teacher/administrator layoffs 6-1 (Maufas voting no).

Notes from City Hall budget hearing

(Updated below with hearing vote, clarifying details)
Today I attended the Budget Committee hearing at City Hall to speak in favor of a resolution that would restore eliminated jobs in the Department of Public Health, and therefore keep a number of essential school secretaries from being bumped.  What I learned from listening to the questions and commentary from Supervisors, budget and Mayor’s office staff was that there is an unexpected surplus in the Department of Public Health budget that could be used to restore positions. Ben Rosenfield, the City’s Controller, testified that there still may be shortfalls in other departments, and cautioned against using a larger-than-expected revenue figure in one department as a justification for restoring spending cuts in that department.

There was also a little drama when Supervisor Campos reported that he’d been prevented from subbing for Supervisor Mirkarimi as a member of the Budget Committee,  a substitution that requires the signature of the President of the Board of Supervisors. However, an observer later reported that it was all a misunderstanding that was sorted out later in the meeting, and that Supervisor Campos was ultimately allowed to vote in Supervisor Mirkarimi’s place.

The City’s head of Human Resources, Micki Callahan, testified that the City is not convinced that many employees will bump into positions at the school district, since those positions are paid at a lower level than their City jobs (I was somewhat confused by this, because the Chronicle reported this morning that the school district would have to pay larger City salaries of City employees who bumped into school district positions, but according to testimony from Ms. Callahan and Steve Kawa, the Mayor’s chief of staff, this is not the case. I’ll have to investigate further.)

The hearing lasted several hours, and I had to leave before I had an opportunity to testify. I’m guessing, though I am not positive, that the Budget committee voted to restore the positions, but I’m not sure what comes next. I’ll report as soon as I have definite information. In the meantime, here’s the statement I intended to deliver during public comment:

Good afternoon Supervisors.  If the principal is the head of a school, the secretary is the heart of the school office, supporting staff, parents and children. They welcome visitors, answer phones, translate for parents who don’t speak English, comfort sick children and administer Band-Aids or ice packs, sort the mail, handle essential paperwork for school staff and generally keep schools running from day to day.

I am grateful to Supervisor Daly for bringing for this resolution and seeking to restore City positions that would in turn restore employment to school district workers. This resolution will certainly bring relief to workers who have been in imminent danger of being bumped out of their jobs.

However, I would be remiss if  I did not point out that this is, at best, a temporary fix. There is no guarantee that essential school district employees won’t be bumped in the future, and I believe we must give some consideration to the idea that the work of the school district is fundamentally different from the work of the City. I will grant that some jobs are the same, whether they are performed on one side of Van Ness or another, but others are not.  Without taking anything away from the important work of a clerk who works in the Department of Public Health, school secretaries perform work that is fundamentally unique to a school environment.

I strongly urge that the two entities, the City and the School District, work together on creating school district-only job classifications for many of these positions. This work would save school district jobs, and put an end to the current spectacle that is pitting our two institutions against each other.

UPDATE: The Chronicle reports that the Budget committee voted 2-1 to pass the proposal that would restore 150 City jobs. The proposal now moves to the full Board. I also asked why the school district says that employees who bump into our positions will cost us more, when the City says they will not. According to school district officials, City employees will come with increased benefits costs, so accepting bumped City employees in place of school district employees will result in increased salary and benefits cost to the school district.

Save our secretaries! City layoffs endanger school workers

If the principal is the head of a school, the secretary is the heart of the school office. Secretaries welcome visitors, answer phones, translate for parents, hand out band-aids and ice packs, comfort sick children waiting for their parents to pick them up, sort mail, handle essential paperwork for the principal and other school staff, and generally keep the school running from day to day. At my daughter’s elementary school, “Ms. Grace” greets children and parents with a warm smile and a “Hello darling!”; when the playground felt too chaotic she would let my oldest “visit” and bang on her typewriter.

But some of our school secretaries are in danger of being bumped out of their jobs by more senior City workers who have been laid off by their departments as part of the City budget crisis. For almost a century, certain public jobs in San Francisco have been governed by the Civil Service System, a system of complex rules and job classifications intended to make the hiring, seniority and layoffs of government positions work in an orderly way.  There are arguments in favor of the Civil Service rules, including the fact that having these objective rules allowed women and people of color to advance into positions offering them secure futures and a living wage.

However, even though the school district is a state agency, we are considered to be a city department by the City’s Human Resources department, and some (but by no means all) of our jobs are considered interchangeable with other City positions (the history and reasons behind this are too complex to go into here, even if I were able to fully explain them). When layoffs happen, either in the school district or in the City, laid off workers may use their seniority to “bump” less senior employees from their positions.  This year, the City laid off a number of clerical workers, but the school district did not. Now, more senior “Clerk/Typists” who lost their City jobs are bumping into our school secretary positions (the duties and requirements of both positions are considered to be equivalent by the Civil Service Commission). Some of those secretaries may be able to “bump” less senior City or school district workers and stay employed, but the end result will still be devastating, because schools will lose their beloved secretaries and at least some less senior school district employees will lose their jobs — even though we did not lay them off.

secretary rally

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Pink slips, red ink and “gray area” math

On tonight’s Board agenda is a resolution to issue preliminary layoff notices to over 500 certificated employees – an action that no one wants to take but is required based on the budget outlook. State law requires us to notify teachers and administrators by March 15 if there is a possibility that they will be laid off for the next academic year.

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