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Teacher Layoffs

Steinberg Measure Survives First Bout with Unions in Assembly Education Committee

By Andrew Keller - July 1, 2010

On Wednesday, members of the Assembly Education Committee took up over twenty Senate bills prior to the deadline for such measures to pass out of policy committees.  For over five hours, advocates and legislators hammered out amendments and debated issues ranging from pupil surveys of their teachers to categorical flexibility to teacher layoffs.

Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg’s (D – Sacramento) Senate Bill 1285, dealing with teacher layoffs, became the focus of the first two hours of the hearing.  The bill essentially requires school district superintendents to ensure that staff levels at individual schools have a percentage of first- and second-year teachers that reflects the overall district percentage.  The goal with this approach is to ensure that the impact of any teacher layoffs is dispersed evenly among schools within a given district.

Representatives for teachers, including the California Teachers Association, argued that the bill has too many unintended side effects to be helpful.  Some of these side effects, in their view, include opening the door for superintendents to play a role in who returns once layoff conditions have eased.  Other concerns voiced by legislators revolved around the hastiness with which the measure was written.

“This measure is not fully baked,” complained Assembly Member Tom Torlakson (D – Martinez).  Specifically, according to Torlakson, the measure does not address special circumstances, such as schools hiring special teachers to meet special needs.  For example, schools would be forced to pass over talented Teach for America recruits at troubled urban schools in favor of maintaining proper faculty ratios.

“The most important piece right now is stability.  Stability is key,” argued Steinberg.  He explained that students, right now, need to know what teacher will be teaching them tomorrow.  The focus should be on the kids, and not the adults, he indicated.

“Schools do not exist for the convenience of adults who work there,” said Assembly Member Juan Arambula (I – Fresno).  Other members of the committee expressed similar sentiments, opining that the focus in this issue of teacher seniority is too often on the adults employed by the school and not on the children served by it.

Despite the fireworks between the sides on SB 1285, the bill passed out of committee with six votes in favor, and two opposing.  Other bills came before the committee for review with far more subdued debate.  Some of the more important measures passed on Wednesday along with SB 1285 were:

  1. SB 1381 (Simitian, D – Palo Alto): Gradually moves the kindergarten start date from a fifth birthday by December 2nd to September 1st, beginning in the 2012-13 school year, and ending at 2014-15.
  2. SB 1317 (Leno, D – San Francisco): Creates a new misdemeanor, “chronic truancy”, for parents of students absent 10% or more of the school days in one school year, yet allowing for a deferred entry of judgment in order to give the parent an opportunity to address the issue.
  3. SB 930 (Ducheny, D – San Diego): Modifies California's public school assessment and accountability system with respect to English language learners (ELLs), including expanding the number of ELL students who are required to be tested on the state's content standards in their primary language.

Editor's Note: Andrew Keller is a Policy Consultant for Governmental Solutions Group, LLC, a policy consulting and legislative advocacy firm.