By Dennis Kelly
President, United Educators of San Francisco

Tonight the San Francisco Board of Education will consider approving initial layoff notices to 118 teachers, counselors, and social workers, 68 paraprofessionals, and 24 administrators. The proposed layoffs come as the district faces an uncertain budget for the next school year, with the potential for large increases in revenue for years to come but no guarantee. If the layoffs are approved, as expected, it will be up to the Board of Supervisors and the Mayor to take quick action to avoid another year of a torturous layoff process that does lasting damage to our schools, even though very few layoffs have ever been made final.

In 2003, then Supervisor Tom Ammiano sponsored a successful Rainy Day Fund ballot initiative to protect our city and our schools in the event of deep budget cuts. This fund has literally saved hundreds of jobs since 2008, when the state of California started to shirk its obligation to our students. Unfortunately, every year the district has accessed the fund, they have done so by sending out hundreds of layoff notices before the March 15th deadline. Hundreds of anxious teachers are put in limbo, left to face the possibility that they may indeed have their layoffs finalized by the May 15th final deadline. Every year, like clockwork, as May 15th approaches the political leaders of San Francisco summon the courage and make the right call to provide our schools the relief that they need, and all but a handful of teacher layoffs have been avoided.

But we don't have to keep dancing this same dance. The Board of Supervisors and Mayor Lee can decide in the next two weeks to pledge the Rainy Day Fund to the school district before the notices are ever sent out, thereby avoiding a process that demoralizes our teachers, destabilizes our school communities, and hurts our students.

At the start of the school year, our CORO intern looked at the staff turnover from teachers who receive layoff notices. Last year alone, of the 384 teachers who were sent a layoff notice in March, 52 decided against returning to the SFUSD, even though they had their notices recalled. In subsequent interviews, teachers reported leaving the district because of feelings of insecurity and mistreatment, with some citing the need to take care of their own families.

What many people may not realize is that the layoff process itself also comes at a steep cost to the school district. The California Legislative Analyst’s office estimates that school districts spend $700 per layoff notice in order to pay for the attorneys and staff time necessary to process teacher layoffs. Because districts as a practice send out up to twice as many layoff notices as they initially approve, this year alone the district may be looking at losing an additional $161,000. Since 2010, we estimate it has cost the district nearly a million dollars, approximately $944,000.

Without quick action by the City government, we will once again be forced to play the same game as we’ve played the last five years. But that doesn’t mean the school district doesn’t have options of its own to help stem the damages done by layoffs. First of all, the SFUSD can summon their own courage to significantly reduce the number of notices that are actually sent out, exposing some of their long term reserves to the very unlikely event that our City’s political leaders will not once again step forward to do the right thing. All of these layoffs can and should be taken off the table, including the layoff notices sent out to paraprofessionals and Early Education teachers.

Finally, the Board of Education and Superintendent should act to place every one of the 34 teachers who were hired under the federal School Improvement Grant into open regular teaching positions. These hard working educators have made solid contributions these past two years working in schools that serve many of our most vulnerable students. It makes no sense to hire teachers from outside the district, train them, and place them in a district they are unfamiliar with, when these educators have proven themselves and are ready to do the work.

San Francisco teachers are tired of playing the dreadful game of musical chairs with their jobs. Lets give them a break this year, skip the layoffs, and let them focus on educating our city’s children.

Layoffs Up for Approval by the Board of Education Tonight (by FTE)

K-12 Certificated Staff (mostly teachers) 117.8
Paraprofessionals 42.81 (impacts 68 employees)
Early Education Teachers 10
Administrators 24

Photo Credit: Sharon Beals.