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Pink slips, 2012: a different story

By Katy Murphy
Thursday, March 15th, 2012 at 8:12 pm in budget, teachers.

Last year by this date, 657 Oakland teachers had slips of paper telling them they were at risk of losing their jobs because of budget cuts — a traumatic development that hit some schools particularly hard. (When all was said and done, the district eliminated about 95 of the 538 full-time positions originally slated for potential cuts; adult education took the brunt of the layoffs.)

This year, none of Oakland’s permanent teachers received layoff warnings, Superintendent Tony Smith reported, saying the district’s reserves were deep enough to absorb mid-year budget cuts, should the state tax measures for education fail.

March 15 is the date by which districts must notify teachers of the possibility of layoff or reassignment, according to state law. My colleague Sharon Noguchi said other districts issued fewer notices this year as well. You can find her story and district-by-district information here.

Two of Oakland’s temporary teachers were laid off, and 16 teachers without tenure were dismissed (not necessarily for budget reasons), a number that’s significantly lower than in recent years. Two administrators received notices, as well, the administration reported.

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  • Oakland Teacher

    Point of clarification regarding “None of the district’s permanent employees received layoff warnings.”

    This is not accurate. Employees who are funded at all with any categorical funds (even when that funding was less than 10%) did receive March 15 letters. I know of people who received the notices, and also know of teachers who received an email apologizing for a notice being sent in error, when they actually did not receive a notice at all. It kind of makes you wonder if the right hand knows what the left is doing down there.

    It is also important to clarify what “temporary teachers” often means: a new teacher who was unknowingly hired on a temporary contract (this happens randomly every year). They are frequently unaware of this fact until they are laid off. The school and community is left shaking their head, because the teacher was a great fit for the school and loved by all. This instability in staffing is what resulted in those 2 schools’ decision to become charter. It doesn’t make sense for the district to say they want “mutual matching”, but set up a perfect storm during the hiring process so that when a good fit has happened, they end it without discussion.

  • wow

    Oakland Teacher–the district is at the mercy of OEA and EdCode when it comes to temp teachers not getting to keep their jobs. Temp teachers have to move aside, so consolidated teachers at other sites have a place to land.

    Mutual matching was stopped by the teacher union. OUSD attempted to implement a system in which hiring could be based on a candidate’s fit with a school site, but this was too school and student-focused.

    From an article on education reform:

    In short, politicians—especially Democratic politicians—generally do what the unions want. And the unions, in turn, are very clear about what that is. They want, first, happy members, so that those who run the unions get reelected; and, second, more members, so their power, money, and influence grow. As Albert Shanker, the late, iconic head of the UFT, once pointedly put it, “When schoolchildren start paying union dues, that’s when I’ll start representing the interests of schoolchildren.”

    SMH

    http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2011/06/the-failure-of-american-schools/8497/?single_page=true

  • Katy Murphy

    Thanks, Oakland Teacher. I should have added that caveat. Don’t teachers whose positions are funded partially (or wholly) by special-purpose funding or grants receive these notices every year?

  • Katy Murphy

    Many new teachers were hired on temporary contracts in 2011-12 (as Oakland Teacher said, some unknowingly) — and, subsequently, received termination letters last spring. I don’t know if there were fewer temporary teachers this year, or just fewer cuts, but just two temporary teachers are losing their positions this year, according to the district administration.

  • del

    Temp teachers are not given temporary contracts “randomly”—they are given temporary contracts only if a union employee is “owed” a job and is for whatever reason not currently in a position. As a result, it may seem random but it is actually by union rules (for example, there may be 15 English teachers on leave and four science teachers on leave, as a result 15 teachers with English credentials will be given temporary contracts when hired).
    This is the opposite of the district creating a perfect storm with hiring, it is actually the union creating this instability… and fighting against mutual matching. Too bad for the kids!

    But back to the article: it is extremely impressive that the district sent out so many fewer pink slips this year. That is very heartening!

  • J.R.

    Del,
    Thanks for the clarification! I must add, you have some good points also.

    This is a little OT but Stanford University held a nice roundtable on educational issues that we are facing, and it is very informative.

    http://www.stanford.edu/roundtable/webcast/

  • oakteach

    Temporary contracts are also issued if the teacher is coming without the “correct” credential (usually from out of state). Mysteriously OTF and TFA teachers, although coming with NO credential and usually from out of state, are not issued temp contracts.

    So according to HR, it is better to be a first year intern who has never taught than an experienced teacher who is teaching new content.

  • del

    Oakteach, you make a good point about teachers with out proper credentials also being given “temp” contracts. However, my understanding is that is state law: until you have a proper california issued credential or training, you cannot be offered a tenure track position. I know for many of those teachers last year, they remained on temp contracts because of the positions “held” by union members.
    OTF and TFA teachers are awarded tenure track positions immediately, as per OTF & TFA’s contracts with the district (which I believe date to the days when oakland usd was run by the state.) In the case of OTF, those adults are used for staffing special education classrooms that are sadly so hard to staff. In either case, my understanding is that since they receive their initial training from a state-approved internship program they are eligible for probationary contracts.

    Another thing to keep in mind is assuming positive intent. Although every OUSD employee has no doubt experienced some waiting or frustration with the HR department, it is demeaning to insinuate that they are “prioritizing” some teachers over others or that they some how do not have the best interests of children in mind. They are governed by very specific, very complicated state and federal law, and constantly have to work around the many union issues as well. Whether or not those rules are in the best interests of children is a whole other question, but it is disingenuous at best to assume the HR department actively working against teachers… especially since the vast majority of employees in HR are paid far less than teachers and have much less job security!

  • J.R.

    Del,
    More good points, thank you.

  • Gordon Danning

    Del:

    I don’t understand your comment (in #5) re: the union creating instability (and “too bad for kids”) re: the District giving temporary contracts to teachers who are replacing teachers who are out on leave. I took a leave of absence this year to pursue a Master’s degree. I have a right to return to the District in September. If the district hired someone to replace me for a year, what is wrong with giving that person a temporary contract? How does that harm students?

  • Oakland Teacher

    The district has a long history of arbitrarily giving out temporary contracts to new teachers who are NOT replacing a teacher on leave. It is reasonable to give a “replacement teacher” a temporary contract, but OUSD routinely gives far more temp contracts than are teachers out on leave. The union has never actually been able to get that data from HR, even though they have asked many times over the years.

    How students/schools are harmed by these types of contracts is that qualified and excellent teachers apply to other districts with less dysfunction, and then a certain percent of OUSD positions are revolving doors for teaching. Having year after year turnover of staff does NOT benefit anyone.

    When a teacher is out on leave (whatever type) for a year, it is reasonable that their replacement be given a temporary contract.

    Although not related, Del made some very important points about interns under OTF and TFA are not given temp contracts. They are given a golden key in to OUSD. According to NCLB, anyone with an intern credential is considered to have the “proper credential.” And yes, there are a much higher percent of those brand new intern teachers in special education classrooms.

    So, Katy – does the date mean that there were only 2 temporary teachers in all of OUSD last year? I would be very surprised by that! I personally know of 3 teachers who are definitely out on leave this year, and have always known of new teachers hired on temp contracts.

  • del

    @Gordon Danning
    My comment is definitely not about you or other teachers who are on leave for valid reasons, especially reasons that will benefit the students in the classroom. It is for the teachers who go on leave year after year or anytime they have a conflict with an administrator. Those teachers are entitled to their “jobs” back, but the students have no way to get their education back.
    It is definitely a slippery slope but for me it is always about what is in the best interest of students—a year away to get a masters’ degree would benefit the students. Going on “stress leave” three Octobers in a row and having the “rights” to go back to that classroom does not sound like it is a benefit to the students.
    Add to that the number of new teachers who are given temp contracts because of the shrinking number of students in the district (to protect teachers who may be “consolidated” from their old jobs) makes it difficult to attract and retain new talent.
    Unfortunately, this goes back to the union’s choice to protect the jobs of adults rather than trying to ensure that the best adult is in the classroom with children.