Tami Abdollah / KPCC
L.A. Unified teachers gather on the top floor of the California Market Center in downtown Los Angeles for the first day of layoff hearings. (April 16, 2012)
Open hearings began today for 9,500 teachers, librarians, counselors and nurses, who were sent preliminary pink slips by L.A. Unified and may lose their jobs at the end of this school year.
In what has become a dark ritual, the district and teachers now engage in the RIF dance, as some call it: Notices are sent, hearings are held at the cost of millions to the district, some notices are rescinded before the school year ends, and other teachers are hired back as budgets become more clear. By law the district must inform educators of their possible termination by March 15, forcing them to send the preliminary pink slips before state and local budgets can be finalized and their consequences analyzed.
This is the fourth consecutive year of such hearings, the administrative law judge rule on the legality and technical accuracy of the notices on issues such as seniority, credentialing, among others.
About 300 teachers gathered in the cavernous top floor of the California Market Center in downtown Monday amid a sea of roughly 1,700 empty white folding chairs. With their backs to the snow-capped mountains, teachers (who took personal days to attend) listened to the protocols of the next weeks of hearings. Up front at a table to the left sat the district's attorneys Marcos Hernandez and Aram Kouyoumdjian and to the right the United Teachers Los Angeles attorneys Richard J. Schwab and Lawrence B. Trygstad.
In front of all this, with rows of three-inch binders spread on tables, sat Administrative Law Judge Eric G. Sawyer, listening to the opening statements.
According to UTLA staff, about 3,200 teachers filed requests to testify, and about 300 will be called as witnesses or respondents.
The district attorneys argued in their opening statement that L.A. Unified has followed the law and notified the teachers as required by law. Because of a $390 million budget gap, the district is required to make painful cuts in its 2012 budget plan and send out more than 11,700 notices to educators across L.A. Unified.
"The bottom line, unfortunately, is that we followed the law," said district attorney Hernandez.
United Teachers Los Angeles attorney Schwab, however, said the district "did not need to go this far, this deep."
Schwab argued the district didn't follow the law, which requires it to lay off teachers according to seniority, but instead targeted teachers in subjects such as adult education, the arts or early childhood education — programs that are slated to to be slashed under the budget plan. Schwab said the district is abusing teachers by putting them through the layoff process when it hasn't worked hard enough to identify other cuts and better allocate money.
"This is done for the mere convenience of the district, and to hedge their bets," Schwab said. "This should not be a gambling game."
This story has been updated.