Tami Abdollah / KPCC
L.A. Unified teachers attend a hearing downtown Monday at the California Market Center on the roughly 9,500 preliminary pink slip notices issued in March. (April 16, 2012)
On Monday morning, Octavio Garcia, a sixth grade math and science teacher at Los Angeles Academy Middle School in South Los Angeles sat with his fellow teacher Gregory Meili, a sixth grade English and ancient civilizations teacher, listening to district and union officials talk.
They weren't in the classroom. Both teachers were taking personal days to be downtown on the 13th floor of the California Market Center for the first day of L.A. Unified's teacher layoff hearings.
About 300 teachers dotted the 2,000 white folding chairs set out in the cavernous top floor of the center, known for its fashion sample sales. Spread outside the large floor-to-ceiling windows to their right was the downtown skyline, and inside with them sat an array of attorneys and other unhappy teachers.
According to UTLA staff, about 3,200 teachers filed requests to testify, and about 300 will be called as witnesses or respondents.
Garcia, 37, has been with the district for nine years and Meili, 49, has spent eight years with the district. For both, it's the fourth year in a row they've received such a notice. But Monday was their first hearing. They had received a letter in the mail requesting they appear, and so they did, 30 minutes early at 8:30 a.m.
"I'm tired of it, really, I am," Garcia said. "This is stressful. Our school is supposed to take the CSTs [California Standards Test] less than a month from now. I'm supposed to be in the classroom preparing...And we're here wasting our time."
Neither teacher had told their students what was going on. And they said they worked hard to remain professional despite the stress.
"Students don't need to know," Meili said. He said it wouldn't be helpful to the work they needed to focus on in class and for their preparation for the CST.
Garcia said he was frustrated by the process.
"This is the fourth year for us, and at the end we get rescinded and taken back," Garcia said. He said he hoped that happened again this year. "I'm at the bottom of the barrel now, a lot of people who had one year, two years, they're gone."
"We were saying before, this should be part of the job description," Garcia said. "You've got to get used to this...I should be in the classroom with my sixth grade class..."
Garcia said he has been working to employ as varied techniques with his "remedial 180" class, which is at a second or third grade math level, to bring them up to sixth grade level.
"This is the stuff the district doesn't see. We're kicking our behinds trying...to work with the students," Garcia said. "The administration's never been in the classroom saying you're doing a good job. No, I just get this notice...All they look at are the numbers, the CSTs. And then we're here."
Neither Garcia nor Meili said they were scheduled to testify, and after three hours, the two decided to leave the all-day hearing early and go home. Garcia used the rest of his personal day to spend time with his kids, picking up his 3-year-old son from daycare and waiting for his 7-year-old to get home from school.
Meili grabbed lunch and then went home to reflect on what happened.
"You do this over and over, and after a while it gets discouraging," he said. "There's nothing we can do...After seven or eight years of committment, I'm faced with unemployment. All your life devoted to kids...It's quite a reality check."
This post has been updated.