The parties in a 4-year-old lawsuit challenging mass layoffs of teachers at low-income middle schools in Los Angeles Unified announced a settlement Tuesday that an attorney called a potential model for creating a stable work force in schools beset by teacher churn.

The deal in the Reed v. the State of California lawsuit will provide about $25 million annually for three years for additional administrators, mentor teachers and teacher training in 37 middle and high schools where there had been low student performance and high turnover of inexperienced teachers. The extra resources will provide a consistent corps of “highly trained teachers you can count on to be there year to year,” said Mark Rosenbaum, chief counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, which represented students filing suit. Higher teacher retention rates and specialized training, in turn, will shield both the staff and students at those schools in the event of another wave of layoffs, he said.

When filed by attorneys on behalf of students at three Los Angeles Unified middle schools in 2010, the lawsuit challenged the state law mandating teacher layoffs based on seniority. That case preceded Vergara v. the State of California, the lawsuit filed by the nonprofit group Students Matter in 2012 that targets the same statute, along with legal protections establishing teacher tenure and due-process dismissal procedures. The Los Angeles County Superior Court will rule on the Vergara lawsuit by mid-summer.

With the settlement, the Reed case ended up taking a different tack, switching from an effort to overturn the layoffs-by-seniority law to a negotiated agreement to protect vulnerable students from the existing law’s potential impact – although for less than 5 percent of the nearly 1,000 schools in the district. Plaintiffs’ lawyers in the Reed lawsuit had argued that the disproportionately high percentage of layoffs at the middle schools – 70 percent of teachers at one school – violated students’ constitutional right to an equal opportunity for an education. The layoffs created turmoil and instability, demoralized the staff and led to a staff shortage filled by substitute teachers the following year, they said.

In a landmark ruling, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge William Highberger agreed, and issued a preliminary injunction voiding the layoffs at those schools. An initial settlement in 2011 between the plaintiffs and the district expanded the number of protected schools from three to 45. But United Teachers Los Angeles challenged the agreement, and a Court of Appeal sided with the union, throwing the case back to Superior Court for further action without voiding the earlier settlement. That led to nine months of negotiations.

By providing resources to attract and retain teachers in the 37 low-performing, high-turnover middle and high schools, the settlement renders the legal question raised in Reed “academic,” said Dale Larson, an attorney with the law firm Morrison & Foerster, which, with the ACLU and the nonprofit law firm Public Counsel, brought the lawsuit. Each school will receive an additional assistant principal, another counselor, a special education coordinator and two or three mentor teachers to observe and meet with the teachers. Principals will receive a retention package to stay during the three-year period of the settlement. And staff openings at the schools will be on a priority list for early hiring. All of these resources will be in addition to money the schools will receive for high-needs students under the Local Control Funding Formula, attorneys said. The settlement is subject to approval of the district’s board of education; it will take up the issue on April 22.

Exemption for specialized training

The agreement also recognizes that the current law allows districts to exempt from seniority-based layoffs those teachers with credentials in hard-to-hire areas such as special education and those with specialized training. All teachers in the 37 schools will receive a 40-hour training. The district will bear the burden, in the event of another budget-based layoff, to establish that the training qualifies teachers for the exemption, said Jesus Quinonez, attorney for United Teachers Los Angeles. (In June 2013, a Sacramento County Superior Court judge upheld Sacramento City Unified’s right to exempt teachers from its special Priority Schools if it could prove the teachers had unique training and experience.)

Under the agreement, the approximately 160 Los Angeles Unified teachers who would have kept their jobs in 2011 if the 45 schools covered by Reed had not been exempted will get back pay and benefits, along with their seniority restored. Most of those teachers have been rehired since 2012, but some worked as substitute teachers at lower pay, Quinonez said.

In a statement, United Teachers Los Angeles said it “recognizes that the agreement for additional resources does not address all of the factors that create high-turnover schools and that all under-resourced sites deserve extra supports. But this agreement is a step in the right direction.”

Referring to the Vergara lawsuit, Quinonez said the settlement acknowledges that “the solution to high turnover in schools is not to take away teachers’ rights.”

Two of the three middle schools originally covered by the Reed lawsuit were operated by the Partnership for Los Angeles Schools, a nonprofit established by former Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. In a statement Tuesday, Joan Sullivan, CEO of the Partnership, said, “Today, thanks to ongoing collaboration, we have all parties coming together around a landmark settlement that promises to bring students across Los Angeles closer to the educational opportunity they deserve.”

John Fensterwald covers education policy. Contact him and follow him on Twitter @jfenster. Sign up here for a no-cost online subscription to EdSource Today for reports from the largest education reporting team in California.

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  1. Gary Ravani 3 years ago3 years ago

    Since there is always a combination of confusion and doubt when the reasons for teachers' transfers from high needs schools are cited as "resources" and "leadership" allow me to provide a quote from research done by Johnson, Kraft, and Papay (2012) from Harvard. Note, they are talking mostly) about teachers departing the profession, but the reasons for departing certain school are the same. Also note, that nearly 50% of new teachers do leave the profession … Read More

    Since there is always a combination of confusion and doubt when the reasons for teachers’ transfers from high needs schools are cited as “resources” and “leadership” allow me to provide a quote from research done by Johnson, Kraft, and Papay (2012) from Harvard. Note, they are talking mostly) about teachers departing the profession, but the reasons for departing certain school are the same. Also note, that nearly 50% of new teachers do leave the profession within 5 years. So when discussions occur about “only” 1% or 2% of teachers being exited from the classroom, it is actually 51% or 52% early in their careers.

    How Context Matters in High-Need Schools: The Effects of Teachers’ Working Conditions on Their Professional Satisfaction and Their Students’ Achievement

    by Susan Moore Johnson, Matthew A. Kraft & John P. Papay — 2012

    “Background/Context: Educational policy makers have begun to recognize the challenges posed by teacher turnover. Schools and students pay a price when new teachers leave the profession after only 2 or 3 years, just when they have acquired valuable teaching experience. Persistent turnover also disrupts efforts to build a strong organizational culture and to sustain coordinated instructional programs throughout the school. Retaining effective teachers is a particular challenge for schools that serve high proportions of low-income and minority students. Although some interpret these turnover patterns as evidence of teachers’ discontent with their students, recent large-scale quantitative studies provide evidence that teachers choose to leave schools with poor work environments and that these conditions are most common in schools that minority and low-income students typically attend. Thus, mounting evidence suggests that the seeming relationship between student demographics and teacher turnover is driven not by teachers’ responses to their students, but by the conditions in which they must teach and their students are obliged to learn.”

    Replies

    • Don 3 years ago3 years ago

      Gary, the students are an integral and significant aspect of the working conditions. Class sizes are usually smaller in low performing schools do to QEIA, TIIBG and TI among others to the teacher’s favor. In my estimation students are THE primary factor in working conditions. They certainly were when I taught in hard to staff schools.

  2. Gary Ravani 3 years ago3 years ago

    To save folks some effort I have copied the UTLA document below (I am not sure why the transcription errors occurred). UTLA: Agreements reached to bring relief to schools educators UTLA has reached an agreement with public interest groups and LAUSD in a long-fought case that will result in millions in new funding for 3? schools that are under resourced and suffer from high teacher turnover. Students at these schools will benefit from funds eannartred for an extra counselor position, … Read More

    To save folks some effort I have copied the UTLA document below (I am not sure why the transcription errors occurred).

    UTLA: Agreements reached to bring
    relief to schools educators

    UTLA has reached an agreement with public interest groups and LAUSD in a long-fought case that will result in
    millions in new funding for 3? schools that are under resourced and suffer from high teacher turnover.

    Students at these schools will benefit from funds eannartred for an extra counselor position, an additional
    administrator, extra professional development time, a mentor program for teachers at the schools, and other
    crucial supports.

    In 2010, the ACLU and Public Counsel ?led Reed California in an effort to address issues at inner-city schools
    that were particularty hard hit with cuts during the recession years. But the settlement reached with the District
    at that time did not bring the necessary resources and it resulted in teacher layoffs at non-Reed Schools?
    violating the rights of those teachers and destabilizing those other schools. An appeals court voided the
    settlement and the parties went baclc to the negotiating table.

    The new agreement will bring vital resources to the 3? schools. In a separate but related agreement, the
    educators who were laid off when their seniority was ignored will he rewarded bacl-r pay, reimbursed forout-of-
    poclcet healthcare expenses incurred, and will have their retirement contributions restored.

    UTLA recognizes that the agreement for additional resources does not address all of the factors that create
    high-tumover schools and that all under resourced sites deserve extra supports. But this agreement is a step
    in the right direction. It af?rrns that resources and su pport?not attacks on the Education Code, including
    seniority protections?are the solution for high-needs schools.

    Replies

    • Gary Ravani 3 years ago3 years ago

      As can be read the agreement appears to be wholly a product of negotiations between the district, community advocates, and the union. Another example of "union intransigence" I guess. Layoffs, of course, have to do with budget cuts. CA has teetered on the edges of being the lowest funded state school system, as measured in cost-of-living weighted dollars per student, in the US for some time now. The system has been operating at the "bare-bones" … Read More

      As can be read the agreement appears to be wholly a product of negotiations between the district, community advocates, and the union. Another example of “union intransigence” I guess. Layoffs, of course, have to do with budget cuts. CA has teetered on the edges of being the lowest funded state school system, as measured in cost-of-living weighted dollars per student, in the US for some time now. The system has been operating at the “bare-bones” level and the last set of cuts broke the bones and went for the marrow. When the layoffs impact high needs schools it is because there is a high level of personnel churn that is consistent at those schools over time. “Exit interviews” done for teachers departing those schools (and the profession) indicate that it is not the “high needs” nature of the school population that leads them to leave, it is the lack of resources and lack of leadership that drives them out. The UTLA statement indicates that, to an extent, the resources part of the syndrome is being addressed by the agreement. Tactfully, it is more or less silent on the other issues.

      • navigio 3 years ago3 years ago

        The reason I asked is at the time it appeared UTLA was making suggestions related to teacher retention and resources that sounded a lot like what is now in this agreement. The layoffs only revealed a larger underlying problem of very high teacher turnover in these schools. The original judgement would have tried to blindly address that symptom without addressing the underlying problem (which would have continued to exist after budget cuts went away). In … Read More

        The reason I asked is at the time it appeared UTLA was making suggestions related to teacher retention and resources that sounded a lot like what is now in this agreement. The layoffs only revealed a larger underlying problem of very high teacher turnover in these schools. The original judgement would have tried to blindly address that symptom without addressing the underlying problem (which would have continued to exist after budget cuts went away). In some sense, the act of creating ‘special assignment’ protections are still aimed at the symptom. But the retention and additional resources are aimed at the underlying problem. Let’s hope these schools continue to get monitored.

        • Gary Ravani 3 years ago3 years ago

          You got it!

      • Don 3 years ago3 years ago

        Gary, in union matters you don't need to be an expert such as yourself to know that, in the context of exit interviews, pink-slipped teachers are not apt to say they left because they couldn't take the stress working in the trenches of inner city schools. They resort to the kinder, gentler rationale that it is "lack of resources" that drives them out, thereby setting the stage for future employment. I'd be highly suspicious of … Read More

        Gary, in union matters you don’t need to be an expert such as yourself to know that, in the context of exit interviews, pink-slipped teachers are not apt to say they left because they couldn’t take the stress working in the trenches of inner city schools. They resort to the kinder, gentler rationale that it is “lack of resources” that drives them out, thereby setting the stage for future employment. I’d be highly suspicious of anything teachers said at exit interviews. There is no reason to be forthright when your employment prospects are on the line.

        An administrative law judge ruled against SFUSD in May of 2012 for skipping over hundreds of employees for pink slips in Superintendent Zones (hard-to-staff) schools. This is not the first opposing court decision on this same issue.

        I agree with the union position that such selective application burdens non-Reed school just as it did not Superintendent Zone schools. So either the LIFO should hold for everyone or none. Obviously you know my answer. I have no idea why teachers should get ANY special protections whether in hard to staff schools or otherwise.

        • Don 3 years ago3 years ago

          “Just as it did in Superintendent Zone schools”

        • Floyd Thursby 3 years ago3 years ago

          Don, this is about the children, not our emotions. Yes, LIFO should be ended for all and it will be in due time, but as you see it is very burdensome. If we can reduce the pain for a few children now who are in the most need, why not? Also, you tend to oppose every effort to give anything to the poorer students or schools, yet you incessantly expect the achievement gap closed. … Read More

          Don, this is about the children, not our emotions. Yes, LIFO should be ended for all and it will be in due time, but as you see it is very burdensome. If we can reduce the pain for a few children now who are in the most need, why not?

          Also, you tend to oppose every effort to give anything to the poorer students or schools, yet you incessantly expect the achievement gap closed. You even oppose tutoring, knowing poor kids never get tutored by parents and others do.

          Since you’re so focused on closing the achievement gap, what is your proposed roadmap on how to get there?

          • Don 3 years ago3 years ago

            Floyd, I laid that out on my own blog which you read. It was entitled Ten School Reforms. But it is entirely off topic.

    • John Fensterwald 3 years ago3 years ago

      Gary: Sorry about the problem with the link. I have uploaded the statement in a different format. It should work now.

      • Gary Ravani 3 years ago3 years ago

        No problem, John. Actually, the “problems” can actually cause some to attend better to the meaning so that they aren’t reading through the lens of preconceived notions. As an old Reading Specialist I see an excellent reading comprehension exercise here.

  3. navigio 3 years ago3 years ago

    Do we know who proposed the settlement? And was the union involved in the negotiation of its terms?

    Replies

    • John Fensterwald 3 years ago3 years ago

      The settlement was negotiated over nearly a year by all parties. The UTLA’s statement on the deal is here.

      • Floyd Thursby 3 years ago3 years ago

        Maybe the LA union learned from their mistake of defending Berndt. They tried to do this for 12 schools in San Francisco and the union went apoplectic and reccomended against all the incumbents. And lost in 3 of 4 cases, the only thing uninformed voters respect more than a card saying united educators endorses is the incumbent asterisk. I'm glad the LA union is being open minded it will help these disadvantaged … Read More

        Maybe the LA union learned from their mistake of defending Berndt. They tried to do this for 12 schools in San Francisco and the union went apoplectic and reccomended against all the incumbents. And lost in 3 of 4 cases, the only thing uninformed voters respect more than a card saying united educators endorses is the incumbent asterisk. I’m glad the LA union is being open minded it will help these disadvantaged kids. Wish SF’s union had been so open.

        • Don 3 years ago3 years ago

          Floyd, exceptions for pink slips at some schools equates to more pink slips at other schools. It means that if your kids are not in Superintendent Zone school it is likely that they not only have double the class, they will be more likely than before to have their teachers laid off. Let's get real and just call it like it is. Few teachers prefer to teach in low-performing high stress schools with … Read More

          Floyd, exceptions for pink slips at some schools equates to more pink slips at other schools. It means that if your kids are not in Superintendent Zone school it is likely that they not only have double the class, they will be more likely than before to have their teachers laid off. Let’s get real and just call it like it is. Few teachers prefer to teach in low-performing high stress schools with high needs students and challenging learning environments. They are hard to staff for a reason. Don’t blame teachers who have gainful employment at other schools by laying them off instead.

        • Don 3 years ago3 years ago

          Floyd, I'm going to speak plainly. If you are against LIFO in its entirety, why argue for exceptions to it as in the Reed case in LA or in the Superintendent Zones? That's like capitulating to the fact that it is OK in some schools but not others. If there are cutbacks all schools should equally share the burden and have to lay off staff. That is the just way to handle misfortune when the … Read More

          Floyd, I’m going to speak plainly. If you are against LIFO in its entirety, why argue for exceptions to it as in the Reed case in LA or in the Superintendent Zones? That’s like capitulating to the fact that it is OK in some schools but not others. If there are cutbacks all schools should equally share the burden and have to lay off staff. That is the just way to handle misfortune when the economy takes a dip. Right now better schools are less affected due to higher seniority staff. They want to turn the tables and make poorer schools less affected. Replacing one injustice with another makes no sense. It isn’t just for high-performing schools to be shielded as they are now by LIFO and it won’t be just low-performing either. It’s true that fighting for equity is sometimes about getting extras where extras are needed, but it is also about making sure the lines don’t blur to the extent that inequity becomes equity. That is to say, a modicum of reasonableness should inform our decisions and the Serrano decision speaks to the need for free and equal education – not some get far more at the expense of others. In this day and age low achievement seems rationalize any extra Compensatory Education spending without accountability. Let’s not also have it mean to layoff teachers without accountability. Sometimes equal should actual mean equal.