Amid feared education cuts, teachers explore options

Times Staff Writer

Adrian Wong is looking for a new job. The fifth-grade teacher has a letter from the Rialto Unified School District, notifying him he might be laid off in a few months. He has two young children and a mortgage on a three-bedroom house in Glendora.

He is also finding lots of competitors.

"Everyone is laying off teachers right now. I think I can bring a lot to any school . . . but it's a tough market," he said. "I really never thought it would come to this."

That summed up the mood Saturday at the Los Angeles Regional Charter Schools Job Fair. Although virtually every school district in the state might lay off teachers because of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's budget, which proposes a $4.8-billion education cut, some charters are still hiring for next year.

The California Department of Education estimated last week that nearly 20,000 employees, including teachers, have received early pink slips. Those potential layoffs could be finalized by early summer.

As a result, interest in the charter school job fair was high. About 300 people, mainly teachers, attended the event, up from roughly 270 last year.

Although charter schools are funded with public money, administrators say they still have funds to grow because of their lower overhead and employee benefit costs, and a more streamlined bureaucracy.

"We're not hiring consultants to consult with other consultants, so we can spend more in the classroom," said Tatyana Berkovich, president of Ivy Academia in Woodland Hills.

The auditorium at the Accelerated School in South Los Angeles was filled with people clutching resumes while waiting to talk to administrators. Many said they had become teachers, in part, because of the supposed job security.

"People always need teachers, right?" said Sarah Austin.

Austin moved to Los Angeles from Washington, D.C., about a year ago to enroll in USC's graduate teaching program because she thought she would have more opportunity in California. But, after visiting booths and seeing the crowd Saturday, she said she might return home.

"It was a lot more promising when I started school," she said. "But I heard that they're looking for teachers in Virginia right now."

Wong doesn't have that option. He quit his job in the Hawthorne district three years ago to move to Glendora, where he could afford to buy a bigger house, and to teach for the Rialto district. He and his wife, Camille, decided to have a second child soon afterward.

But when Wong got his potential layoff notice last week, he realized that he would have to at least look for a new job. "It's like the dream was over," he said.

Rialto Unified, which faces a $23-million shortfall, has sent early layoff notices to 305 employees.

Wong and his wife often discuss what their lives would be like if they'd stayed in Hawthorne. He taught there for nine years before moving, which means he probably would have been safe from any layoffs.

"I've lost tons of sleep just thinking about it," he said.

Many teachers said they didn't want their current employers to know they were looking for new jobs. Even though early layoff notices had to be mailed last week, districts could still decide to keep their employees.

"We're in a strange place because we know we may not be back, but we don't want to make it seem like we're jumping ship," said one Los Angeles Unified School District teacher, who requested anonymity.

The sudden availability of teachers is a potential boon for charter school administrators. Forty-one educational organizations attended the event, up from 35 last year.

"I've met so many incredible, experienced teachers today," Berkovich said. Motioning to the two piles of resumes behind her, she said: "This means we can pick the best teachers for our school."

Other administrators pitched their schools as places where teachers could find more job security because they have to worry only about their performance, not their hire date.

"It's not just about seniority here; it's about how well you do," said Kevin Sved, co-director of the Accelerated School.

That's cold comfort for job hopefuls such as Stephanie Macey, a 23-year-old who is scheduled to graduate from San Jose State this spring and hopes to teach in an elementary school next year.

"I just want a job right now. I'm just hoping to get a call back," she said.


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