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Anaheim school district scraps mass teacher layoffs, considers alternate cuts

Students lead parents in a march against planned teacher layoffs within the Anaheim Union High School District.
In March, students led parents in a demonstration against planned teacher layoffs within the Anaheim Union High School District.
(Eric Licas)
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Shelley Hawkins, a health teacher at Cypress High School, received a notice in March from the Anaheim Union High School District that she could potentially be laid off. For Hawkins, who has 25 years of classroom experience, it was her second such slip in as many years.

But on May 10, she learned from her principal that school board members reversed course on contentious teacher layoffs and rescinded them all.

“I’m still shocked,” Hawkins said. “If we were in such a budget crunch that we needed to lose so many teachers, how are we not losing any now? What’s going to be the impact next year?”

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First approved in March, the mass layoffs originally sought to eliminate 119 teacher positions out of the more than 250 notices issued, a reduction that would have accounted for about a 10% cut in teaching staff across the district. In April, the district rescinded dozens of layoffs to bring the remaining count down to 62.

Since the board’s vote approving the layoffs, teachers, parents and students have rallied against them at school sites from Anaheim to Cypress.

Geoff Morganstern, president of the Anaheim Secondary Teachers Assn., credited the rallies with helping to turn the tide against the looming staff cuts.

“They gave folks an opportunity to exercise their voice, and that had a big impact on the conversation,” he said. “We’re very pleased district leadership has decided to rescind the layoffs. We acknowledge that it wasn’t an easy decision for them to make.”

Morganstern joined Supt. Michael Matsuda in a joint statement on May 10 noting that the teachers’ union and district officials will be “working collaboratively” in the future to “emerge stronger as a district.”

The district did not make Matsuda or board members available for comment.

AUHSD Supt. Michael Matsuda provided a prerecorded update on the teacher layoffs in April.
(Screenshot by Gabriel San Roman)

Amid declining enrollment, district officials originally sought to cut costs by $18.4 million through layoffs. Even taking the reduction into account, the financial forecast remained bleak with reserve funds expected to be in the red within three years.

“If we do not face this, we do not have a school district,” said Board President Annemarie Randle-Trejo before voting to approve the cuts in March. “We can’t run a school district on negative funds.

In lieu of layoffs, the district has now outlined a series of alternative cuts and reductions to maintain both staffing levels and financial stability. It’s looking to freeze a number of infrastructure improvements to school sites while offsetting payroll costs by cutting a $16.3-million arts and music block grant.

But the pivot didn’t come soon enough for dozens of educators who won’t be returning to the classroom next school year due to retirements, resignations and expiring contracts.

“With how the layoffs went down, some teachers are deciding to find a teaching job somewhere else,” Morganstern said. “In the end, we will probably have 50 less teacher positions.”

That number concerned Germaine Neumann-Chau, a district parent who attended rallies and packed school board meetings to speak out against the layoffs.

“While I’m elated our teachers don’t have layoffs looming over them anymore, I’m also worried about next year, because I know that our district isn’t going to backfill those positions,” she said. “Our class sizes will increase.”

Parents and students led a protest march to oppose the mass layoffs, which would become permanent in May.

March 14, 2024

The district currently serves 27,000 students across campuses in Anaheim, Buena Park, Cypress, La Palma and Stanton.

According to California Department of Education statistics, 70% of its students are Latino.

Total enrollment is down by about 5,000 students since the 2011-12 school year, a decline that district officials expect to double within five years and cited as a reason for mass layoffs.

An analysis of California Department of Education data shows that enrollment has dropped across many district campuses.

Loara High School in Anaheim showed the steepest drop-off with a 40% reduction since the 2011-12 school year. Cypress High School and Lexington Junior High School, both in Cypress, have increased in enrollment during that same time frame.

Anaheim High School is the second largest school site in the district, but has seen its enrollment decline by 17%
(Gabriel San Román)

For Andrew Campuzano, a graduating Anaheim High School senior, fewer students at the district didn’t translate into a need for fewer teachers. He became outspoken against teacher layoffs, in part, out of concern for overcrowded classrooms.

“As it stands right now, we do not have small class sizes,” he said. “What would happen if you took those teachers away? Those numbers would increase.”

Campuzano, who is headed to UCLA in the fall, recalled consoling one of his teachers when layoff notices were first issued.

“I told her I’m not going to stop fighting for teachers like her,” he said. “At the end of the day, it’s mentors like her that motivate students to go to school.”

Before being rescinded, layoffs were originally slated to become permanent on May 15. Administrative law judge hearings over the staffing cuts delayed that date through the end of the school year.

The teachers’ union asked Campuzano to testify as a student, but the hearings took place during the school day. Some of his classes were taught by substitute teachers while teachers who received layoff notices attended them.

Hawkins missed four days of teaching her Cypress High School health class on account of the hearings.

“Very little work got done,” she said. “My kids lost four days of instruction.”

Two Orange County school districts will pay a total of $4.8 million to six victims of a former water polo coach convicted of sexually abusing female players.

Jan. 19, 2024

With the layoffs rescinded all future hearings are canceled.

In the statement by Supt. Matsuda and Morganstern, joint meetings exploring solutions to the district’s budget challenges are promised in the coming weeks, instead.

Morganstern, in a TimesOC interview, signaled support for a bond measure should the district consider one later this year to help out with its financial woes.

But for some parents, it’s too little, too late.

Daniel Olea has an eighth-grade student at Brookhurst Junior High School. As a parent, he wondered why district officials couldn’t have crunched the numbers on alternate cuts before announcing teacher layoffs.

When Olea’s son goes to high school in the fall, it won’t be at an Anaheim Union High School District campus.

“I already wasn’t happy with the problems that we are currently facing like big classroom sizes, not enough communication between schools and a lack of security,” he said. “I’m taking my son out of the district.”

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