Of all the budget-cutting remedies that school districts have to undertake, laying off teachers — or even the threat of being laid off — has a rippling effect on schools and students that goes far beyond the pain being experienced by individual teachers faced with losing their jobs.
Layoffs create anxiety in the weeks leading up to the March 15 deadline for issuing preliminary layoff notices, and then for months afterwards. It can strain staff relationships, affect morale, and cause stress and anxiety among those threatened with joblessness during a period of high unemployment.
The impact is felt throughout the entire school and in classrooms, beginning with the day pink slips are issued, according to both school administrators and teachers who have received them.
“The March 15 deadline is just a killer,” lamented Jonathan Raymond, superintendent of Sacramento City Unified at a school finance hearing in the state Capitol last month. “When we give teachers pink slips, they are done for the spring, even though there is still 2 1/2 to 3 months of learning time for our children.”
Nearly 20,000 teachers received preliminary layoff notices by the March 15 deadline specified in state law, according to figures announced yesterday by the California Teachers Association. Almost half of those layoff notices were received by teachers in a single district — Los Angeles Unified, by far the state’s largest.
Under state law, unless a district issues a preliminary layoff notice by March 15, it becomes much more difficult to let teachers go later on.
Because of the multiple uncertainties around predicting state budgets, district officials typically play it safe and issue more layoff notices than they need to so they won’t end up having teachers on their payroll without the revenues to pay for them.
An EdSource survey of the state’s 30 largest school districts found that 20 issued pinks slips to 10,854 teachers last March. By October, all but 2,213 of them had been rehired.
Paralleling EdSource’s figures, a report by Education Trust-West estimated that in the 2010-11 school year, statewide some 22,000 teachers received preliminary layoff notices last spring, and all but about 5,000 were rehired.
Regardless, thousands of teachers will likely lose their jobs, contributing to the state’s shrinking teacher work force. And even if the odds are good that a teacher will be rehired, these pink slips take their toll on staff morale and job satisfaction, as national surveys seem to have found.
The Metlife Survey on the American Teacher, released last week, showed lower levels of job satisfaction in schools that had experienced layoffs (37 percent vs. 49 percent). Also teachers were four times more likely to say they felt insecure in their jobs than five years ago (34 percent today vs. 8 percent in 2006).
Kris Elam teaches U.S. history to 8th graders at Granger Junior High in Sweetwater Union High School District near San Diego. She just got a pink slip for the third year in a row. She says she typically goes above and beyond what she’s required to do, working hours each night and weekends preparing classes.
Now, however, she anticipates having to spend time working on getting her next job, including possibly needing a day off to prepare her resume. She says she will have to cut back on after-school tutoring. She and others who received pink slips aren’t sleeping very well, she said, making it more likely they’ll come to school tired.
“I don’t have the energy to put in 110% like before,” she said. “I think the kids do notice.”
Elam says the first time she received a pink slip in another district she wasn’t rehired. That makes it difficult to take comfort from friends and colleagues who tell her not to worry, that she will be hired back by Sweetwater. She lives on a single income, so can’t afford to find herself unemployed come the fall. “I have to pay my mortgage,” she said.
Sunny Dawn is a third grade teacher at Cleveland Elementary in San Francisco. She also has gotten pink slips more than once. This year she was able to avert the budget axe. But her position may no longer exist next year because the district is increasing the number of bilingual classes at her school, which she won’t qualify for because she does not speak Spanish. Her principal, however, has told her not to worry because she will probably take the place of the kindergarten teacher, who has received a pink slip.
“That doesn’t make me feel very good, taking her job,” she said.
Alex Anguiano, president of the Sweetwater Education Association, the district’s teachers union, said that teachers tend to work collaboratively. Working together becomes more difficult knowing some of them will have a job next year and others won’t, he said
Thinking ahead to the fall, Anguiano said teachers are often hired back at the very last minute, and it can take two to four weeks of shuffling teachers and students to different classrooms to balance class sizes. “The teachers are frustrated, the students are frustrated, and the parents are frustrated,” he said.
The fall is likely to see further fallout from the layoffs. “It’s a huge disruption,” said Joe Boyd, executive director of the Teachers Association at Long Beach Unified.
Because of seniority rights, Boyd said, layoffs cause a lot of movement of teachers from school to school, and a lot of involuntary transfers. Teachers have to adjust to different grade levels, different schools, and different colleagues. “Everyone feels the stress.”
Teachers’ representatives say they understand that districts are, to some extent, at the mercy of the state Legislature and of voters, who this year will decide in November whether to approve a tax initiative that would help stabilize funding for schools.
Ideally, they say, districts would plan for a more realistic scenario, rather than the worst-case scenario, which results in more layoff notices than necessary. “There needs to be another way to work out budget issues,” Anguiano said.
The combination of increased pressure on teachers to have their students do well on standardized tests with the uncertainty caused by budget cutbacks is causing many to rethink their commitment to the profession.
In fact, the Metlife survey found that job satisfaction has plummeted among teachers by 15 percentage points over the past two years alone. Accompanying that has been a substantial increase in the proportion of teachers likely to leave the profession, from 17 percent to 29 percent — all in just two years.
“I love what I do,” said Sweetwater’s Elam. “But there’s no way I would encourage someone to become a teacher.”