Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Beware the Ides of March

In years when state and local budgets don't look so good (this is one of those years), California schoolteachers dread March 15, as that is the final day that they can be given a pink slip which indicates they might not be returning to their job next school year.

The trick is that just because you receive the dreaded pink slip, it doesn't necessarily mean you have lost your job, it simply means you may lose your job. Districts must cover their arses and overestimate the number of job cuts they might have to make. In many cases, either all or almost all of the pink-slipped teachers return. This year however, pink-slipped teachers might not be so lucky.

According to this article from the Sacramento Bee, almost all the major districts in the Sacramento area - Elk Grove, San Juan, Sac City, Folsom-Cordova, Twin Rivers - have already issued hundreds of pink slips. It is anyone's guess how many of those recipients will receive a final notice on the drop-dead day of May 15th.

My wife, who works in one of those aforementioned districts, came home today and informed me of the bloodletting that is scheduled to happen in her district. The word came down that any teacher hired after October 2002 is going to receive a pink slip. The juiciest part is that only certificated staff are going to have their jobs threatened; due to some kind of clause in their union contract, classified staff is safe from any layoffs for the next two years, so no one on the classified side will be receiving any layoff notices. Isn't that grand? Axe the teachers but keep the lunch ladies. God knows we need lunch ladies, but in the end, what is the mission of a school, to educate or to feed? My wife also informed me that as part of her district's shakeup, vice principals, curriculum specialists, and administrators from the district and county offices of education will be sent back to the classroom as teachers. This begs the question: were all those high-paying curriculum specialist jobs at the district offices even needed in the first place? What other kind of dead weight could be cut in our educational system, especially in the Taj Mahals that are many of our district offices?

What about the effectiveness of the teachers who are possibly being let go? The criteria for their dismissal is based solely on seniority. You could be one of those lazy teachers who hands out worksheets and reads the newspaper - it's not just a cliche', I have seen it with my own eyes - but in my wife's district, if you were hired in 2000, your job is safe. On the other hand, you could be an effective eager-beaver teacher who inspires your students to succeed and you are doing wonders with helping to raise test scores, but since you were hired in 2005, you are out of a job. This is a perfect example of one of the major reasons for the substandard education that we are seeing in California today. Until that situation changes, you are not going to see significant improvement in academic performance anytime soon.

My district actually has increasing enrollment, and so far no certificated job cuts have been announced. If they are, let's just hope the magic cutoff date is after July 2004!

Good Day to You, Sir


Donalbain said...

On reading other blogs, I get the idea that the problem in US schools is too much job security.. The idea of a teacher being fired without cause in the UK simply could not happen. Could you explain why it happens in the US?

Chanman said...

I guess that depends on what you mean by "cause."

Once a teacher in the U.S. obtains tenure (usually after two probationary years), it is extremely difficult to get rid of that teacher for incompetence or even after committing most kinds of crimes. It is possible, but the time and cost is usually so prohibitive, school districts either shuffle these lemons around to other schools, or the teacher's principal gives the teacher such a crappy teaching schedule that the teacher wants to leave.

In New York City, teachers who should be nowhere near a classroom spend their days in an administrative building - dubbed the "rubber room" - where they sit all day reading a book or whatever, yet they still get paid. It is cheaper for NYC to do this than pay the costs of trying to fire the teacher.

About the only legitimate way that teachers can be let go without cause is in the situation I described with the budget cuts. However, the teachers who are released are not released based on their job performance, they are released based on their seniority (or lack thereof).

I hope this clears it up for you.