By Mike Myslinski
With her daughter Jessica at her side, Bay Area teacher Cynthia Dalmacio shares her story at a CTA news conference. Cynthia's baby is due in June.
One Bay Area teacher was five months pregnant when she got her pink slip last month. A Sacramento educator got hers for the fifth frustrating year in a row. And notices went to 28 of the 29 teachers at Fay Elementary in San Diego City Unified, where the local chapter is challenging the district to stop unnecessary layoffs.
These are not the kind of teachable moments educators have in mind when they enter the profession.
Lives were put on hold as more than 20,000 teachers received precautionary RIF (reduction in force) notices — “precautionary” because some may be rescinded later on as budgets permit. School districts have until May 15 to decide on final cuts for teachers, counselors, librarians, and all certificated staff.
They are a drastic reminder of how badly our public schools need more funding, said CTA President Dean E. Vogel. That is why CTA is supporting the new version of the Schools and Local Public Safety Protection Act, a ballot initiative that would raise taxes on the wealthy to restore some funding to schools and local public services.
“When you issue thousands of layoff notices for educators, you are hurting students,” Vogel said. “When you continually lay off educators, you break the bonds of learning, and you send the message that education is not a priority in our state.”
California ranks 47th in per-pupil public education spending. Many district budgets have been cut to the bone, Vogel said, and the “precautionary” pink slips are the fallout from more than $20 billion in public education cuts to schools in the past four years.
The Bay Area
During a CTA news conference March 15 in Brisbane, Bay Area educators shared their stories. The 550-student Brisbane School District pink-slipped more than 25 percent of its 30 teachers, while the greater Bay Area was hit by more than 1,500 educator pink slips.
Teacher Cynthia Dalmacio spoke out about the wrong message being sent when a teacher like herself — with 16 years of experience — is getting a pink slip for the fourth year in a row.
“My three children attend our public schools, and I am now five months pregnant with my fourth child,” Dalmacio said quietly as TV news cameras rolled. “Students see me in tears at the end of each school year, and I know that affects them emotionally. But beyond that I worry, like so many pink-slipped teachers do, about how I will financially support my family.”
Similar frustrations were voiced by Pamela Sison, a pink-slipped educator in New Haven Unified in Union City. Speaking at a March 13 Education Coalition news conference, Sison said “My pink slip was issued by our school board, but it was the result of poor decision-making in Sacramento. Union City is a working-class town, and our neighborhood schools are holding things together. My students deserve better, and so does my community.”
The 13,000-student district is racked by a $10.7 million budget deficit. It issued 85 pink slips, including notices for all librarians. Another 32 New Haven classified employees are among the thousands of California education support professionals also facing dismissal due to state cuts.
“I have been teaching now for 25 years, and this is the worst I have seen the cuts,” said Charmaine Banther, New Haven Teachers Association president. “We are in shock here.”
Imagine the chaos: a school district issuing 9,500 educator pink slips to close a projected deficit of $390 million.
Los Angeles Unified, the largest district in California and second-largest in the nation, rocked United Teachers Los Angeles members when the school board issued that unprecedented number of layoff notices last month.
“This large number of layoff notices, if finalized, would destroy the district,” UTLA President Warren Fletcher warned the LAUSD School Board as hundreds of teachers, parents and students protested outside. He demanded that the district use $180 million in newly available state funding to rescind more than 2,100 RIF notices.
The district responded by hiring a $93,000-a-year social media director, which UTLA blasted in a flier to members as an example of LAUSD “sending a clear message to its employees that its priority and focus is not on the classroom but rather on public relations to fix its damaged reputation.”
A $298 local parcel tax on the November ballot could repair some of the LAUSD cuts. See updates at www.utla.net.
In Sacramento City Unified, first-grade teacher Kelly Ryan is tired of getting pink slips. Five years in the district have meant five layoff notices, said Ryan, who is on the Political Involvement Committee of the Sacramento City Teachers Association. Fewer teachers mean larger class sizes, she warns.
“Increasing class size at a time and in a district where many of our schools are already in Program Improvement further jeopardizes the opportunity for student achievement. We need to make decisions based on what's best for kids. It seems that we have lost sight of that priority.”
Ryan said the 48,000-student district adds to the confusion by not following seniority policies when it comes to rescinding pink slips. “Unfortunately, the district has a tendency to forgo the negotiated contract language around seniority and instead rehire teachers based on a unilateral, arbitrary decision process.”
Fighting nearly 400 pink slips is taking its toll on Sacramento district teachers, said SCTA President Scott Smith. “There is kind of a battle fatigue that sets in.”
In San Diego Unified, the state’s second-largest district, the school board is demanding concessions from the 8,000-member San Diego Education Association before rescinding layoffs, but SDEA questions the budget data and worst-case scenarios that the district is using.
“The school board knows this system is broken. They also know that if 1,700 educators are laid off, they can’t open our schools next fall,” SDEA President Bill Freeman said. “We continue to call on the district to work with us.”
Precious Jackson-Hubbard, a former teacher of the year at Lincoln High School, received her third pink slip in six years. They devalue our skills, she said.
“My colleagues and my students value me, but not this district. You would think we would get used to this, but we don’t. You would think it hurts less, but it actually hurts more,” she said. “When I stop to think of the reality of what could be, that I could be out of work, it’s very scary.”
Jackson-Hubbard is the sole breadwinner. It’s not fair that cuts are forcing her to choose between taking care of her family and her students, who are like family to her as well, she said.
“We go into teaching because it’s our heart’s passion. But I really have to think about paying the rent now. It’s heartbreaking.”