Commentary: Pink slips leave teachers seeing red

I believe that education should be a top priority. Unfortunately, this is not the case in Sacramento. Once again in 2012, the governor's budget proposes cutting education so that more money can go into social service programs.

This year, like years before, my Republican colleagues and I found some areas that can be cut back to help protect education. In March, we proposed a "Roadmap to Protect Classrooms and Taxpayers" to avoid any tax increases and to protect schools. However, rather than using this roadmap to avoid cuts in education, the governor's revised budget instead takes $2 billion worth of these solutions to fund other priorities.

One of the residual effects of the state annually underfunding education is that every March 15, more than 20,000 teachers receive a pink slip in the mail informing them they may not have a job when classes begin in the fall. This is before school districts know what their budgets will look like since the state's budget isn't due until June 30. This means teachers are sent layoff notices before school districts have the full budget picture and before they know how many teachers are needed. This wreaks havoc on teacher morale.

A recent report from the Legislative Analyst's Office (LAO) states that the "layoff time line is disconnected from both the state budget cycle and the availability of critical local information. Because of this misalignment, the number of teachers that are initially noticed typically far exceeds the number of teachers that are actually laid off for the following school year." In other words, most teachers who receive a pink slip should never get one in the first place.

Even worse, by law, school districts must give final termination notices by mid-May. Again, this is before schools even know how much money they will be receiving from the state. Sending out these pink slips well before the state's budget is finalized serves no legitimate purpose. In fact, according to the LAO report, "Out of every 10 teachers that are pink-slipped, roughly half are given final layoff notices and only two or three are not rehired prior to the beginning of the school year."

This system needs reform. Teachers shouldn't be receiving layoff notices until schools have the budget numbers needed to make informed decisions.

It is difficult for a teacher to come into a classroom and instruct students while knowing he or she might need to find a new job before the next school year begins. When teachers are worried about their jobs, it can affect classroom performance. Students are the ones who get the short shrift.

Early in my career in the Assembly, I tried to address this problem with ABX3 32, which required that the deadline for notice of termination be made in June to coincide with the state budget cycle.

Unfortunately, ABX3 32 did not move forward because of strong union opposition. The argument was that teachers need time to find employment if they are going to be laid off. That may be true, but getting a notice in June or early July instead of March still leaves teachers time to find jobs at other schools. I know of no other sector that is mandated by law to give six months' notice to employees that they might be laid off.

Serving layoff notices four months before a budget is signed and six months before the school year begins is bad policy. A better practice would be to let districts finish their budgets and then send out layoff notices if needed. This will dramatically cut down the number of pink slips mailed out and reduce unnecessary stress for teachers and students alike.

It is important to protect our teachers and make sure that our children are receiving the proper education. One common-sense way to start is to reform the pink slip process.

JIM SILVA represents the 67th Assembly District, which includes Huntington Beach.

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