A Shrewdness of Apes

An Okie teacher banished to the Midwest. "Education is not the filling a bucket but the lighting of a fire."-- William Butler Yeats

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Hunger strikes at LAUSD

The California meltdown continues to pile up its casualty lists. And some teachers have gone on hunger strike:
Sean Leys sat huddled and still in a tent on a sidewalk outside of a Los Angeles middle school, fatigued by an ongoing hunger strike but resolved to protest looming teacher layoffs. The longtime English teacher, holding a biography of labor-rights leader Cesar Chavez in his lap, was camped outside John H. Liechty Middle School with about 20 colleagues, an occasional motorist honking a horn in support of their cause.

While he may avoid a pink slip, thousands of his teacher colleagues in Los Angeles will not. By next school year, 2,100 city teachers are slated to lose their jobs — a 5 percent hit to the nation's second-largest school district. Worse still, Leys said, is that the layoffs are concentrated in some of the city's grittiest neighborhoods. Los Angeles Unified's inner-city schools have higher turnover and tend to hire more new teachers, and state education code mandates that layoffs be issued based on seniority. "This is about civil rights and education for inner-city children," Leys said.

School districts across the nation are facing similar financial crunches, but many have avoided painful layoffs with the help of federal stimulus funds. California, however, is mired in a budget crisis and, despite the influx of federal money, is still moving to lay off thousands. The National Education Association estimates that some 34,000 teaching jobs will be eliminated this year. California — with Los Angeles Unified in the lead — faces the largest loss of nearly 18,000 teachers. The city's schools have roughly 40,000 teachers. Some inner-city middle and high schools could lose up to 40 percent of their teachers, according to an analysis by the Institute for Democracy, Education and Access at the University of California, Los Angeles.

By contrast, many schools in the district's more affluent areas, such as the San Fernando Valley suburbs, will be less affected because only up to 10 percent of their teachers are new, the analysis found. At schools such as Liechty, located in gang-riddled central Los Angeles, more than half the teachers are losing their jobs. Their classrooms will be filled by transferred senior teachers and administrators whose positions were eliminated. Administrators say layoffs are spread throughout the district, but Liechty has a large number because it opened in 2007 and was filled with new hires. District officials acknowledge staff turnover is a problem at certain schools and that layoffs will cut into the hires — including those who request to work in urban areas — that the district has worked hard to recruit in recent years.

Teachers who lose their jobs can join the substitute pool and are placed on the re-employment list, officials said. "Our hope is to keep them involved in the system," said Vivian Ekchian, the district's chief human resources officer. Until the district finds the money to rehire the teachers, students will find themselves in bigger classes this fall. Critics of the layoffs say the district's newer teachers bring sorely needed enthusiasm to the problem-plagued campuses, as well as new teaching methods and ideas.

Many of the district's newer hires are also minorities who can relate to the majority of the district's 650,000 students. "I share a lot of my life with my students," said Christian Aguilar, a Liechty seventh-grade math and science teacher who's facing layoff. "I tell them there's an opportunity for you to grow up and get out of here. I tell parents I want their kids to get out of here. I can only hope I made an impact on some of them." Aguilar grew up blocks from the school and shows students the scar on his neck, where he was slashed by a drug dealer, to underscore that he knows firsthand what their lives are like.

Students said they like the empathetic ear that the younger teachers can provide. "They're easy to talk to," said Marilyn Ann Flores, an eighth-grader at Liechty. "They understand you. It wasn't that long ago that they were teenagers. They tell us their background. Some teachers went through the same things we're going through. We see if that person made it, we can, too."

School board member Marlene Canter said the experienced teachers and administrators who will fill the gaps after the layoffs are also capable of motivating children. What's really needed, she said, is a way to reward higher-performing teachers and a simpler process to weed out poor ones. "Just because you're a senior teacher doesn't mean you're a bad teacher, or if you're a younger teacher, you're automatically good," she said.

Leys, a 10-year teaching veteran at Lincoln High School near Liechty, said the hunger strike, which started May 27, has cost him a pound a day from his already thin frame. But he appeared determined to continue his protest.
"In these neighborhoods, schools are life or death for a lot of these kids," he said. "It's the inequity of how these layoffs are being done. It's frustrating."

I heard that Lays recently relented on his hunger strike. I hope no one makes the sarcastic assumption that this means they should expect teachers to live on starvation wages.

I really don't think the issue is new teachers versus old teachers. I've seen some pretty bitter newbies, and I've seen some pretty enthusiastic veterans. I think the issue is a flat refusal to understand that -- listen up, voters-- there ain't no such thing as a free lunch, which my favorite author Robert Heinlein referred to as TANSTAAFL. Until people realize that taxes actually buy good things like good schools and good roads, this kind of problem will continue, but especially in La-La Land, brought to you thanks to Proposition 13.

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At 6/24/09, 11:30 AM, Blogger Magical Mystical Teacher said...

The California Supreme Court needs to overturn some of the voter initiatives that are killing the Golden State--including Prop. 13!

At 6/24/09, 2:39 PM, Blogger Mister Teacher said...

When they eliminate 40,000 teacher jobs, do they expect to have 40,000 fewer children enrolled? Oh, excuse me, even THAT math is not quite right -- it would have to be more like 40,000 X 20 kids??

At 6/24/09, 5:45 PM, Blogger Cheryl said...

Mister Teacher--if only our average class size in CA were 20. Under class-size reduction, districts who conformed (certainly not all) had 20 in K-3. For the rest of us, it's already been over 30. For next year, all classes will be bigger.

At 6/24/09, 7:21 PM, Blogger Fred said...

Financially and operationally, California is just plain broke. I have no idea why anyone would want to locate a business in that state.

At 6/24/09, 10:10 PM, Blogger "Ms. Cornelius" said...

Yeah, it's more like 40,000 x 35 kids. And remember, many towns had to basically provide the teachers with food and rent vouchers so they could live close enough to teach the children! And THAT was in the good ol' days before this crisis!

Hmmm-- California:
1. Earthquakes.
2. Prop 13.
3. Santa Annas.
4. Mudslides.
5. The Guvernator.
6. Wildfires.

Let's compare that to...
It's got EdWonk and California Teacher Guy and a bunch of other way underappreciated educators. No thanks.

At 6/29/09, 8:31 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes, California is in a bad way right now. Thank goodness we have Prop 13 or the leg would tax us more than they do now.

I would be willing to pay higher taxes IF I could be assured my kids would get competent teachers. But, I can't get that assurance.

We have almost 12 % unemployment. The State is broke and cuts have to be made. I would prefer that the school systems could weed out the bad/poor teachers and keep the good ones. But the system is set up so that senority rather than quality is the layoff criteria.

That hunger striking middle school teacher with a picture of Chavez is someone I would never want near my kids.

I also think that there are many efficiencies improvements that could be done that would cut expenses. I also see a huge amount of waste in my kids' schools.

But, the hard reality is that tax revenues are decreasing and cuts have to be made. The schools get the majority of state revenues and so there will need to be cuts at the schools. Almost every business/employee are facing cuts/layoffs. Why should the schools be different?

At 7/3/09, 9:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Of course cuts have to be made. But taxes need to go up too. The Republican refusal to acknowledge this reality has brought us to our knees. Ironically, the crisis they have provoked will lead to some much needed reforms - a loss of the 2/3 rule, redistricting and now people are talking about reforming prop 13 as well.

Had we kept the vehicle licensing fee high for the last three years we wouldn't be in this mess. If the legislature was willing to allow us to pay $15 more we could keep our parks open. But the republicans are holding us hostage. I say, throw the bastards out!


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