Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Over 100,000 California Teachers Getting Pinkslips?

In this Reason commentary I take on the myth of the California teacher layoffs.

The California Teachers Association is currently running a statewide advertising campaign claiming that the proposed education budget cuts will result in 107,000 teachers losing their jobs.

Similarly, if you've picked up any newspaper in California recently you have read about the thousands of teachers receiving pink slips from their school districts. Alarming articles with headlines like "Teachers on Edge, Pink Slips Loom," and "More than half of Canyon Vista and Oak Grove elementary staffs are not expected to return next year," give devastating accounts of the havoc that Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's budget cuts will wreak on local schools.

State Schools Chief Jack O'Connell sent out a widely cited press release estimating that more than 20,000 teachers and support staff have received layoff notices because of the proposed $4.8 billion (10 percent) cut to education spending. Historical evidence suggests that this pink-slip campaign, while undoubtedly disturbing to individual teachers, is largely a rhetorical ploy to create outrage and popular support for more education funding.

It doesn't have to be this way:

Some California districts bucked the teacher pink slip hype and decided not to issue layoff notices to any permanent teachers. For example, Roger Buschmann, Los Angeles Unified's chief human resources officer, told the Los Angeles Times, "We gave it a lot of thought and decided, 'Why worry them unnecessarily?'"

On the other hand, Los Angeles Unified, which is projecting a $430 million deficit, notified about 3,000 administrators and senior management contract employees that they may not return next year. While it is doubtful that 3,000 central administrators would be let go in Los Angeles, this is the most sensible course of action to protect schools from losing teachers.

There are several other California districts that are proposing much more rationale cost-cutting strategies as an alternative to giving teachers pink slips. For example, in Corona-Norco Unified, where my own children go to school, the district opted to first eliminate a $16 million cost of living increase before laying-off teachers.

In Lake Elsinore Unified, the district instituted a pay raise freeze for all administrators and 10 percent cuts budget to all central office departments.

These districts reflect a nationwide trend to reduce central office costs first and direct more dollars to the classroom. In Washington, DC, Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee dismissed 98 workers at the central office saving $6 million to be invested in classrooms.

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