Teaching > Pay and Tenure

Court backs union, sends LAUSD layoffs case back to judge



Handing United Teachers Los Angeles a significant procedural victory, a state appeals court has overturned a landmark ruling challenging the contractual rights of teachers in Los Angeles Unified.

In 2010, Superior Court Judge William Highberger ruled that massive layoffs of teachers with limited or no seniority at three of the district’s lowest-performing middle schools had violated the constitutional right of students in those schools to an equal education. The layoffs of nearly two-thirds of the teachers in those schools had disrupted school improvement efforts and left students with substitute teachers for much of the year. Judge Highberger subsequently approved a settlement between the district and parents who brought suit that protected 45 schools from future teacher layoffs and required that no school in the district be disproportionately affected by a reduction in force.

But on Friday, with one judge dissenting, a three-judge panel of the 2nd District Court of Appeal ruled that Judge Highberger took an improper shortcut when approving a deal that violated the terms of the teachers’ contract. The court agreed with the union that it was entitled a full trial based on the issues raised in the lawsuit and sent the case back to Judge Highberger to conduct it. A third judge, in a dissent, ruled that Highberger had given sufficient attention to the issues and the union’s objections when he conducted a four-day hearing into the fairness of the settlement.

The two-judge majority didn’t decide whether Judge Highberger was correct in ruling that children’s fundamental right to an education can supersede the terms of a collectively bargained agreement; for now, the agreement in the Reed vs UTLA case, protecting the 45 schools from layoffs, will remain in effect.

However, the requirement for a full trial could significantly stretch out the time it would take to challenge a a seniority-based layoff. That’s why the lawyers for the parents in the Los Angeles case – Public Counsel Law Center and the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California – say they will appeal the latest ruling to the California Supreme Court. “Our Supreme Court has a long history of respecting the constitutional rights of schoolchildren, and we’re hopeful they will hear this case,” they said in a statement.

UTLA praised the Court of Appeal decision and criticized the settlement that the district made in the Reed case in a statement on its web site.”The Reed settlement has proven to be a failed experiment at most of the campuses involved because it does nothing to address the underlying issues at high-turnover schools. It has also severely harmed hundreds of additional schools, triggering widespread displacements and layoffs at non-Reed schools.”

Going deeper

Superior Court Judge William Highberger’s 2010 ruling in the Reed vs. UTLA case

2nd District Court of Appeal ruling overturning the settlement in Reed vs. UTLA

 

 

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7 Responses to “Court backs union, sends LAUSD layoffs case back to judge”

  1. navigio said

    on August 12, 2012 at 11:19 pm

    “The two-judge majority didn’t decide whether Judge Highberger was correct in ruling that children’s fundamental right to an education can supersede the terms of a collectively bargained agreement, so for now, the agreement in the Reed vs UTLA case, protecting the 45 schools from layoffs, will remain in effect.”

    Actually, it appears this ruling is based on precedent cases that specifically outline when a trial court can say that one group’s rights can supersede another’s, and ruled that the original court should have done more before making that decision. So in essence they are saying that the original ruling was in fact incorrect, but not because thats what a trial would eventually rule, but because he did not have the authority. It really seems to have nothing to do with who is involved (ie kids and unions) but a question of due process of law (though admittedly, most (all?) of the precedents involved bargained agreements).

    John, where did you see mention that the protections would remain in effect?

    The situation that hit these schools was truly disastrous. Almost 2/3 of their teachers were laid off and replaced with subs (and the next year a similar thing was slated to happen). One thing that has always stood out for me about this story is that even when these teachers are ‘protected’, they may end up leaving of their own volition anyway. (The reason 2/3 were laid off in the first place was those schools were unable to keep very many tenured teachers there before the RIF–I remember looking at teacher turnover in one of these schools and it was horrendous even before the RIFs (I seem to remember around 25% yearly, but thats from memory)). And regardless of which way the lawsuit ends up going, that problem wont be addressed by the outcome. What I think needs to happen here is a story on exactly why that turnover is happening and how we can stop it. (If Im not mistaken, UTLA actually made some suggestions on how to stem that tide–am I remembering correctly?) If the cause is atrocious administration, then thats all on the district.

    I really hope we can use this situation to focus on how to really improve things for these (and other) kids instead of focusing on things we think ‘fixed it’ but really didnt.

    • John Fensterwald replied

      on August 12, 2012 at 11:31 pm

      Navigio: An attorney for Public Counsel said that the settlement will continue in effect while the case is on appeal, and a statement by Supt. John Deasy to the Los Angeles Times reiterated that: “In the meantime, nothing has changed,” Deasy said. “We are opening school for next year with our students and staff protected.”

  2. el said

    on August 13, 2012 at 9:44 am

    I think we need to recognize that high staff turnover is itself harmful and that it indicates trouble at a school, perhaps even more indicative than test scores. I would like to see some initiatives to assess and address these situations.

    • navigio replied

      on August 13, 2012 at 10:55 am

      I agree, and one of the ‘tragedies’ of the way we are doing budget cuts (cut first, hire back later when receiving other funds, eg stimulus money) as well as those cuts themselves exacerbates teacher (and staff) turnover by having the bumping process kick in. This has been going on for a few years now and is starting to turn schools into revolving doors. Perhaps this is why so many districts are starting to simply maintain what they can at the risk of defaulting during the year. (I am reminded of the state super’s report from a couple months ago that indicated a record number of districts were in financial trouble).

      While the bumping process probably makes sense in concept, it does not work very well at all during times of cuts, especially repeated ones. I think that fact is going to force more and more districts to look at cutting the school year instead of implementing layoffs. And even then, that process will likely increasingly frustrate our teachers, which I expect to lead to increased retirements.

      Maybe its time we thought about implementing a constitutional guarantee to a quality education as opposed to just a guarantee for something random.

  3. Manuel said

    on August 13, 2012 at 10:37 pm

    Lost in all this handwringing is the fact that the initial decision affected more than those three schools: 42 other schools were covered, among them several new schools which received their students from the existing surrounding schools. The rationale was that these schools needed to be stabilized against RIFs. But since they were new schools, they had no such track of high turnover. Of course, the same argument was not extended to the schools contributing their students to the new schools: those schools were as exposed to RIFs as all the rest.

    Lastly, Villaraigosa claims that exempting “his” schools from the RIFs has led to their improvement. Tell that to those who attend and work at the Santee Educational Complex, which is, if I remember correctly, in the list deemed to be “taken over” by the state.

    It is all smoke and mirrors…

    (No review-before-posting capability? No ability to include links either?)

    (BTW, Public Counsel does a lousy job of following up at the ground level. For instance, there is widespread evidence of LAUSD not meeting its obligations under the Williams decision. Public Counsel’s response to private complaints? “Try to work out an amicable solution.” As if LAUSD responded to such pressures.)

  4. LostINspace said

    on August 13, 2012 at 10:42 pm

    I looked at one of the schools on the list of 45 Reed schools, and it was rated at a 2 of 10. The reality is brand new teachers cannot be expected to take on hardcore learning defiencies and keeping them at a school and skipping over more tenured teachers was not the answer. I think it would have made more sense to allow the Reed schools to have less pupils per classroom, perhaps fifteen per class, and give them quality time instead of expecting new teachers to take on as many as forty students per class who are struggling. With the smaller head count, you can give so much more attention to the students, and really teach them the core subjects they really need. I don’t think the students fail the standards tests on purpose, I think they really don’t know how to do it, and it travels with them from first grade to drop out. Changing the seniority is not going to help. More teachers and less students will bring them along better. It would give teachers the ability to take students with severe learning issues and lift them up in the world of studying and comprehension. Where is the lottery money now?

  5. KarenK said

    on August 17, 2012 at 5:05 pm

    This was a no-brainer. William Highberger has no business sitting on any court bench, let alone ruling on complex legal matters that affect so many people. Unfortunately, Highberger has made it very clear that he is far more interested in high profile “celebrity” cases than important matters. It’s very sad to see our court system so infected by bad attorneys like him sitting as judges.

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