53 La Jolla teachers receive pink slips
Teacher layoffs by the numbers:
Bird Rock Elementary: 3
Torrey Pines Elementary: 9
La Jolla Elementary: 13
Muirlands Middle: 14
La Jolla High: 14
*Source: San Diego Unified School District
To protest cuts
• Send a letter to your legislator asking that he or she demand a balanced state budget with no cuts to education
• Visit: educateourstate.org
By Pat Sherman
March 15 was a sobering day for public school teachers across the state, including approximately 1,650 within the San Diego Unified School District, who each received preliminary pink slips.
As many as 53 La Jolla teachers were given walking papers, including three at Bird Rock Elementary, nine at Torrey Pines Elementary, 13 at La Jolla Elementary and 14 and both Muirlands Middle and La Jolla High schools.
The California Education Code requires school boards to issue the preliminary layoffs by March 15, and then make a final decision on the notices by May 15.
La Jolla High School principal Dana Shelburne said he issued pink slips to employees who teach English (3), math (3), world languages (2), science (1), social studies (1) and band (1), as well as a nurse, a counselor and a resource teacher.
Shelburne said the school has not had to discontinue any programs yet due to the cuts. He hopes other teachers will be able to take up the slack until the state budget turns around and more money is allocated for education.
La Jolla High also lost three classified employees, including a library assistant, a fulltime security guard and a bilingual office clerk, leaving the school without a person to translate for Spanish-speaking parents.
In addition, a school nurse’s schedule was cut back to three days a week and the remaining librarian’s schedule was cut to two days a week — meaning the library will only be open two days a week next year if the cuts are cemented May 15.
“Back in the good old days we had a full-time librarian and a full-time librarian’s assistant,” Shelburne said.
Across the state, layoffs were issued based on seniority.
Shelburne first notified the teachers that he did not have enough money for their salaries in February, when he completed his budget for the coming school year.
Those same employees have received preliminary pink slips for the past two years. Though the layoffs were all rescinded in 2010, only some of them were rescinded last year, he said.
“I don’t know how long we’ve been playing this horrible little dance,” Shelburne said. “You’d think after a decade we’d be safe from these draconian cuts.”
Until recently, layoffs have only been given to employees who have taught in the district for four years or less, Shelburne said. However, this year he gave notice to a teacher who has worked in the district for nine years.
He fears schools like La Jolla High will lose bright, energetic young teachers who are dissuaded by the tenuous nature of California’s public education system.
“Their lives are in chaos every year,” he said. “They can’t make any plans to buy homes, to get married or have children. Every year they go through the meat grinder. It doesn’t take too long to see it in their eyes.”
Across the state March 15, parents and students held rallies on campuses to protest the cuts, blowing bubbles to send a message to state legislators — “Don’t Blow It.” Organizers with the statewide, parent-led organization, Educate Our State, are urging people to send letters to their state legislators, asking them to fully fund K-12 public education.
Bird Rock Elementary School parent Marnie Fay said she has watched her fourth-grader’s class size increase to 36 students due to previous education cuts.
Bird Rock Elementary parent Mitch Brucker blamed a broken state government on the cuts.
“I don’t think there’s any way we can really plan on being successful and competitive as a community or nation if we treat our school systems like a private business (where) we simply shed workers when the economy gets bad,” he said.
Lisa Bonebrake, a member of the Bird Rock Foundation and co-chair of the La Jolla Cluster Association (which represents La Jolla’s five public schools), said the state is slated to lose as many as 20,000 teachers in the 2012-2013 school year.
One in eight students in the U.S. is educated in California, yet during the 2008-2009 school year, California ranked 44th in the nation in per pupil spending, Bonebrake said.
“California ranks near the bottom in math and reading (scores),” she added. “Our current high school dropout rate is 30 percent.”
Parent-run organizations such as the Bird Rock Foundation are increasingly picking up the financial slack.
“Every year we have to raise the bar in terms of what we can raise at our school site through our foundation,” she said. “The district has cut out supplies, librarians, the arts — and these are all things that now parents pay for directly.
“We want to encourage state legislators to pass a balanced budget now that isn’t tied to some statewide ballot initiative in November that may or may not pass. We need to know those numbers way in advance so that we can plan for what our students need in September.”
In the spring of 1996, California Gov. Pete Wilson championed a class size reduction initiative to limit all kindergarten through third-grade classes to 20 students.
Bernie Rhinerson, San Diego Unified School District’s chief of staff, said the average K-3 class size is expected to rise to 30 or 31 students next year — up from an average of 24 this year and 20 the previous year. (By comparison, La Jolla Country Day School classes max out at 20 students, and are usually smaller).
Rhinerson said some of the pink skips could be rescinded by the May 15 deadline if representatives for the San Diego Education Association (the local teachers union) return to the negotiating table, though he said no negotiations are underway at this time.
The school district is currently facing a $120 million deficit.
“When 91 percent of your costs are in personnel, you have to have concessions from employees or we have to do layoffs to balance next year’s budget,” he said.
The school board has asked the teachers union to forgo raises planned for next year and to continue a five day per year teacher furlough that started last year.
They may also ask the union to consider potential cuts to health insurance, Rhinerson said.
District-wide, the cost of next year’s raises is $21 million and the amount saved by furlough days would be about $17 million.
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