Two months after the ax fell, the bodies are coming back to life, if not the spirits.
Five physical education teachers in the Los Angeles Community College District returned to work this week, two months after being laid off as part of what was called “an overdue change in education direction” by Dr. Monroe Richman, then board president.
When the district discovered it lacked enough teachers to complete the change, the instructors were brought back Sept. 5 as temporary, long-term substitutes. But their return is shrouded in doubt.
“We are very upset that of the idea of them being brought back on a temporary basis,” said Trade-Tech Athletic Director Courtney Borio. “The decisions seem to change about every hour, and if their positions are revoked, we are right back into this layoff thing.”
Lindsay Conner, a member of the district’s board of trustees, said the classification as temporary employees is misleading.
“They are being asked to do a job,” Conner said. “To suggest that this is a momentary thing where they’re in today, gone tomorrow, is not the situation, in my opinion.”
Although the layoffs in physical education have been rescinded, they will not be quickly forgotten.
“In essence, we are back to square one,” said Marilynn Ladd, former athletic director at East Los Angeles College, who was rehired as a physical education and health education instructor at Los Angeles City College last Friday.
Added Ladd: “Most of the people laid off have been hired back. Nothing was accomplished. There didn’t seem to be much need to lay us off in the first place. It shows the whole thing was kind of arbitrary.”
Conner disagrees with that assessment.
“The fact is, this is the first time the district has undertaken the layoff process,” he said. “No one had any precise expectation of how long it would take or what it would involve.
“We were aware of our needs as an educational institution, and we were aware of the fact that we had to restructure in order to be competitive. There was only one process we could take to accomplish that, and it was through layoffs.”
Conner said the purpose of the layoffs was to get more teachers in growing academic areas such as English as a second language, business and mathematics--and away from areas such as physical education that had too many instructors.
“We had to reorganize our teaching program, which forced us to take certain actions that were not pleasant,” he said. “That presented problems for us in athletics and physical education, but overall, the purpose of the layoff process has been well-served.”
Conner said that by having more teachers in growing academic areas, the district has been able to serve more students. The district’s enrollment is up by about 12% over 1985, he said.
Athletic officials argue that more students would be enrolled in physical education had there been no cuts. Further, they say the district is losing money because of its indecision.
At Pierce, for example, about 100 students played on the football team. Because each player was required to enroll in 12 units, they each brought the district $2,700 a year in state aid, according to officials. That meant the Pierce football team brought in about $270,000 in state funding.
Former Pierce Athletic Director Bob O’Connor said he estimated overhead expenses for running the team at $70,000--a profit of $200,000 for the district.
“There’s no question they have lost money by dropping football at Pierce,” O’Connor said.
Others in physical education also weren’t buying the district’s explanations.
Jim Fenwick quit as football coach at Pierce in February because of the uncertain future of athletics in the district. He now teaches at Valley College and coaches running backs as a volunteer at Cal State Northridge.
“It doesn’t seem to bother them,” Fenwick said of the district administration. “They have a business to run, but they don’t seem to care how it affects people’s lives. The whole thing seems to be backwards.
“It’s been a long summer. We got out of school in May. I have a wife, two kids, a new house. There’s been a lot of anxiety. I didn’t know where I’d be teaching or if I’d be teaching.
“I’m embarrassed to tell people I work for the L.A. Community College District. If people ask me, I tell them I work for a private school.”
Athletic officials are concerned that morale has been irreparably damaged within the district faculty.
“It’s the end of a long, tragic process,” Borio said. “But we lost some good people in that process. Progress stopped. We got so busy fighting that we couldn’t do the job educationally that we wanted to.
“The loss of morale is significant. Mentally, it’s been so destructive that it will be hard to snap right back.”
Borio, as an athletic director and physical education department chairman at Trade-Tech, was involved in negotiations with the district daily. The ordeal has taken its toll, he said.
“Under normal circumstances, I enjoy very much what I do, including the administrative end,” Borio said. “But I certainly have not enjoyed the last year. I just hope that now we can get back to constructive program building and the student-service type things that we’re supposed to be doing.
“But I don’t think we can get the pride back in the district in the very near future.”
Valley Athletic Director George Goff agreed.
“I don’t understand why it call came about this way,” he said. “It made for a lot of turmoil and hardship, and it didn’t do much for the morale of teachers and coaches.
“We can’t think of this as the end, though. Every year something else seems to go wrong.” For Goff, however, the end is near. At 57, he is approaching retirement.
“From a personal standpoint, I’m not happy that I’m of the age where I’m beginning to consider retirement, but I am happy from a professional standpoint,” Goff said.
“I’m just glad I’m not 40 years old, with no place to go forward and no way to go back. If you are 20 or 30 years old, you can pack up and get out. Or if you’re a lot older, there’s retirement. But it’s the people in the middle are really hurting. They have to feel squeamish about their future in this district.”
Valley football Coach Chuck Ferrero is trying to put it all behind him.
Ferrero was one of several would-be coaches barred from running a team because they had been transferred out of physical education departments to avoid layoffs. He was cleared to coach when the layoffs were rescinded, though he had continued to run the team in the interim and would have been the unofficial coach if the layoffs hadn’t been rescinded.
“Hey, it’s just like everybody has been saying,” Ferrero said. “It’s unfortunate that some people’s lives were changed by this whole thing, but we have to put it in the past. We’re going ahead as planned and we’re putting it all in the past.”
At Los Angeles City College, however, the fight continues.
City College Coach Phil Pote was one of the non-PE teachers who had been blocked from coaching. Even though he can legally coach the team now, school President Louis Hilleary had previously decided to drop the sport for the 1986-87 school year.
He is sticking to his decision.
“It’s not a matter of what is happening now,” Hilleary said. “It’s what happened before that was the basis for this decision. When I had to decide, I didn’t have access to a qualified coach and to field a team without a coach would have been inappropriate. Now it’s the middle of September, and for me to change my mind now is asking too much.”
Hilleary said the money that would have gone to fund the City College baseball program is instead being put into renovation of the football field and gymnasium.
Pote, whose campaign to save the program includes the support of major league baseball commissioner Peter Ueberroth, American League commissioner Dr. Bobby Brown and a host of professional and college coaches in Southern California, isn’t giving up.
Pote has pledged to raise the money to fund the team--which he estimates at $7,500--by himself. All he wants is a chance.
“Is our purpose to put money into buildings and fields or into the education of young people?” Pote said. “I wouldn’t go before the district board or alienate my own school’s administration if I didn’t think this was so important.”