Teachers' flexibility under fire

GLENDALE — Opinions were split over the possibility of converting more temporary teachers toward permanent contracts during a discussion at Tuesday’s meeting of the Glendale Unified School District Board of Education.

The debate followed an explanation about why a recent decision to transition 64 teacher contracts toward permanent status might put the district in a precarious position, according to John Garcia, assistant superintendent of human resources.

The district currently needs 243 temporary teachers and will now have only 236 to fill positions that are funded by specific funding grants, Garcia said, explaining that 109 of those positions accommodate jobs funded by specific state grants where teachers are on leave, and another 134 fund increased staffing for class-size reduction programs.

The district tries to maintain 243 temporary teachers in case it loses state funding for a specific grant, so that it would not have to lay off employees, but could instead decide not to renew one-year teacher contracts, Garcia said.

“Tomorrow we’ll be short by seven contract teachers and thereby losing some flexibility,” Garcia said.

But board Clerk Chuck Sambar argued that the district was being too cautious and did not need to maintain 236 temporary teachers, especially since it usually replaces between 60 and 100 teachers every year.

“I would feel very comfortable, knowing that historically we have had a need to hire 60 to 100 people. I’m suggesting 50 people for starters,” Sambar said of the possible amount of temporary contracts to begin converting toward permanent status. “If that’s possible, I think without jeopardizing our flexibility, I think this would be a very compassionate and flexible way to deal with this because this is a very large number [of temporary teachers].”

But with the state budget in peril, any action regarding contracts may be too rash at this time, board Vice President Mary Boger said.

“We are like blind people without a cane wearing earmuffs and potholders on our hands,” Boger said of the constantly changing deficit projections she has heard from state educators. “We simply have no idea of what’s going to happen.”

Supt. Michael Escalante was concerned about cutting down on any quotas for filling positions that may have unreliable funding, but said he would report to the board on the possibility of adding 50 more teachers.

“I was just in several conversations with superintendents where they didn’t have an adequate number of temporary teachers,” Escalante said. “And they’re actually concerned about what would happen if they didn’t have categorical funding and had to go through layoffs.”

The board also spent considerable time acknowledging academic achievements by students and schools. Among the honors mentioned Tuesday was recognition from US News and World Report for the district’s high schools.

The magazine’s Dec. 4 report on “America’s Best High Schools” recognized all four of the district’s high schools as part of the best 1,925 high schools out of 21,096 surveyed in 48 states.

Although no local schools received gold medals for being named in the top 100 schools ranked, Crescenta Valley and Clark Magnet high schools received “silver medal” honors for being in the top 504 schools, and Glendale and Hoover high schools received “bronze medal” recognition for being in the top 1,321 schools.

The awards were given to the schools for “considerably outperforming their state’s standards.”

“You really are a shining example for districts and schools nationwide,” board member Nayiri Nahabedian said as she presented certificates to principals from the recognized schools.

 ZAIN SHAUK covers education. He may be reached at (818) 637-3238 or by e-mail at zain.shauk@latimes.com.

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