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L.A. Unified to rescind layoff notices to about 2,000 teachers

Los Angeles school officials plan to rescind layoff notices to nearly 2,000 teachers, but thousands of less-experienced instructors and other employees still could lose their jobs in the nation’s second-largest school system.

The decision, announced Monday, affects permanent elementary teachers in the Los Angeles Unified School District. They could have been displaced because of a projected 25% increase to class sizes in the lower grades. Supt. Ramon C. Cortines emphasized the need for stability that would allow schools to build on last year’s upward progress in test scores.

Cortines said that rescinding the notices nonetheless embodied risk: He said he was assuming, based on the newest and best information available, that he would have hoped-for access to additional dollars from the federal stimulus package as well as increased flexibility in using the money. He also will direct schools, especially academically struggling ones, to use their own budget discretion to restore teachers.

“I’m insisting that schools not performing will have to buy back elementary teachers,” Cortines said.

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Permanent teachers are entitled to a hearing before being laid off, a process that could have disrupted the current school year, and could cost the district an estimated $9.5 million. And if mistakes were uncovered, an administrative law judge could invalidate layoffs.

No hearing process protects teachers without tenure, and about 3,500 of them have received notice that they could be laid off. The school board is scheduled to vote today on measures to slash $596.1 million from a nearly $6-billion general fund, a proposal that would also result in fewer counselors, custodians, library aides, administrators and clerks.

Cortines said he’s heard from unhappy employees and parents: “There are a lot of tears, a lot of swear words. They emotionally feel it, and I feel it.” At the same time, he added, “there is not enough stimulus money to fill the gap.”

Schools with a high percentage of new teachers will be especially hard hit. More than half the staff at John H. Liechty Middle School, west of downtown, are less experienced teachers who lack tenured protections.

At Liechty, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa led a forum Monday with teachers and parents, stressing the need for “shared sacrifice” and “creative solutions” to save jobs and preserve campus reform efforts.

Echoing austerity measures he’s proposed for the city, Villaraigosa noted that the district could save $65 million and about 1,100 school jobs if employees gave up automatic salary increases that are tied to years of experience and additional education. And an across-the-board 3% salary reduction could preserve an additional 2,280 campus positions, he said.

Among the schools hardest hit by proposed layoffs of new teachers would be the 10 schools that signed on to the reform effort overseen by the mayor and his staff. At Gompers Middle School in South Los Angeles, 42% of its staff are inexperienced teachers who received layoff notices. The number was 34% at Markham Middle School in Watts. Some of these schools also could lose their principals, simply because they are new to the school district and would be bumped by administrators with more seniority.

The teachers union leadership maintains that no layoffs are necessary.

“I appreciate the mayor’s voice in the discussion,” said A.J. Duffy, president of United Teachers Los Angeles. “He should seek information from UTLA directly. We can help point him in a direction that will help his allies on the school board get accurate information.”

Duffy suggested using more federal money this year instead of spreading it out over two years: “You have a sick patient, and you want to get that patient well right away. You don’t want to take the penicillin capsule and take half of it out.”

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howard.blume@latimes.com


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