Imagine having a job where your co-workers have greater job security than you — not because of merit or seniority, but simply because of their job titles. That’s the reality for California’s classified school employees, who feed and transport our students, ensure our schools are clean and safe and keep our students learning through technical and educational support.
Currently, the law requires districts to provide layoff notices to teachers and certificated administrators by March 15th, or they are protected from layoff for the next academic year. They also have hearing rights if they receive layoff notices.
In contrast, classified employees, who are the lowest wage earners in our schools, who are predominately women and are the most racially and ethnically diverse workforce in education, live with the constant anxiety that they can be laid off any time of the year with only a 60-day notice and in some cases with no notice at all. They also have no hearing rights.
Because of this layoff notice inequity, classified employees have long been the go-to target for layoffs when districts want to balance their budgets.
Assembly Bill 438, which passed out of the Legislature with bipartisan support and is currently sitting on the governor’s desk, would ensure classified staff receives the same layoff notice protections as teachers and highly paid administrators.
It does not prevent districts from laying off classified employees, but rather requires they provide the same notice they already provide to administrators and teachers. Districts are familiar with the layoff notice law; it is not new to them. They will have to plan their budgets taking into consideration their entire staff instead of planning for half and balancing their budget on the backs of the other half.
The need for codifying these equitable protections in statute was made even more clear last year when the Legislature passed a budget trailer bill protecting classified cafeteria workers, custodians and bus drivers from layoffs and included intent language stating that other classified employees shouldn’t be laid off. This was done to protect critical student and community services during the pandemic. Regardless, many school districts and county offices of education did not comply with the Legislature’s intent, and more than 2,000 classified employees were laid off, while administrators and teachers were protected.
The very school administrators who enjoy these layoff protections are the ones working hard to defeat this bill and maintain the “job protections for me, but not for thee” status quo. They complain that the March notice date does not align with the budget process, but AB 438 provides districts the same layoff flexibility they currently have for teachers and administrators, extending notice deadlines to August when the state budget’s cost of living adjustment is less than 2%.
AB 438 will right decades of wrongs by treating all California school employees, including the lowest wage earners, equitably when it comes to layoff protections. That is why all California education labor groups, including teachers, classified employees and the California Labor Federation, came together to sponsor this critical bill.
It is long past time that California supports our classified staff, who provide the essential services that keep our students safe, fed and learning, with the same job security as their colleagues.
Matthew “Shane” Dishman is president of the California School Employees Association, which represents some 250,000 school support staff throughout California.
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