SAN FRANCISCO -- In an effort to reach out to teachers in the midst of a contentious round of contract negotiations, officials at San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD) have reneged on nearly half of the layoffs of teachers, administrators and other support staff planned for the conclusion of this school year.
Facing $83 million in budget cutbacks from the cash-strapped state government, which could swell to $120 million if California voters fail to pass either of the tax increases being pushed by Governor Jerry Brown and education advocate Molly Munger, SFUSD has looked to decease its operating costs by shedding staff members.
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Near the beginning of this year, almost 500 SFUSD employees were sent pink slips; however, that number was slashed to 218 in early May. This most recent move by the school board has removed another 97 teachers from that list.
"We hope it shows good faith on our part to take a calculated risk, even though the money’s not in hand," district negotiator Tom Ruiz told the San Francisco Examiner.
While dozens of teachers have already received pink slips, it doesn't necessarily mean all of them won't be coming back to work in the fall. This mass issuance of termination notices has become a yearly occurrence across the state. By law, California school districts aren't allowed to lay off employees over the summer without first notifying them by March 15. In recent years, districts like SFUSD have been saved from actually having to go though with the vast majority of said layoffs due to last-minute cash infusions from external funding sources such as the city's rainy day fund.
San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee briefly toyed with the idea of not releasing the rainy day money unless the district looked into raising revenue by selling or renting out some of its unused properties to cover a portion of the shortfall. However, the idea not only proved politically unpopular but also violated both the city charter and state law, so the mayor stated he would allow the money to flow with no strings attached.
District officials told the Examiner they expect to receive somewhere in the neighborhood of $6 million from the fund. Even if this money ultimately does come through, the district will still face a $29 million budget shortfall at the end of this school year.
United Educators of San Francisco (UESF), the union representing some 6,000 teachers and other school employees, has repeatedly balked at the district's attempts at staffing cutbacks. At first, district officials had hoped to shelter under-performing schools encompassed within the Superintendent's Zone of the Mission and Bayview-Hunter's Point from the layoffs. But union representatives protested that the policy not only forced schools outside of the zone to shoulder a disproportionate burden. Also, as per the district's contract with the union, all layoffs are required to be based solely on seniority.
SFUSD officials eventually relented, after falling on the wrong side of a judge's ruling in a legal challenge brought by the union, and allowed pink slips to go out to all schools in the district.
A recent survey conducted by controversial education reform group Students First found that that a large majority of likely California voters oppose seniority-based layoff policies--with the strongest opposition from the state's African American and Hispanic communities. Only 29 percent of respondents said seniority should play any factor in deciding which teachers to lay off.
Both sides are currently engaged a contract mediation process slated to wrap up by July 1, when the remaining layoffs are poised to go into effect.
Negotiations have stood at an impasse, with the district calling on teachers to accept at least four unpaid furlough days and lose three professional development days over the course of the next two years. The union, on the other hand, has demanded a two percent across-the-board raise for its members.
There is also disagreement over an increase in elementary school class sizes and changes in SFUSD's pre-kindergarten and special education programs. The latter change is largely due to a recent report by the California Department of Education showing the district's widespread violation of state special ed rules.
As a result, the union's membership unanimously voted to authorize a strike if negotiations completely fall apart. This is the first time the union's rank-and-file have given its leadership such an authorization in the better part of a decade, although a second vote of the membership is still required to actually initiate a labor stoppage.
If the union does go on strike, it would the first in the city since 1979.
"The teachers of San Francisco sent a message loud and clear to the San Francisco Unified School District," said UESF President Dennis Kelly in a statement released the day following the vote. "It is time for the district to stop seeking unilateral cuts and sweeping program changes, and to start treating the teachers and paraprofessionals with respect and to recognize what we have done to keep this district afloat."
The state of California already has one of the leanest education bureaucracies in the nation. According to a recent report by the California Budget Project, "California schools spend a larger share of...dollars on instruction and student services than do schools in 43 other states. In 2008-09, California schools spent 95 cents of each dollar on instruction and student services, ranking seventh in the nation. In contrast, they spent just 5 cents of each dollar on administration, food services, and other expenses."
Check out this video showing how the pink slip process affects teachers: