Teachers weigh career options as layoff notices proliferate

Demonstrators carrying a banner that says
Demonstrators carrying a banner that says "I Can't Afford to go to College. Solution: No Cuts" past Royce Hall on the campus at UCLA in Los Angeles Thursday, March 4, 2010. Students, teachers, parents and others rallied throughout California and many other states to protest deep cuts in funding for schools and universities. Governor Jerry Brown announced another round of cuts to higher education Monday, Jan. 10, 2010.
AP Photo

Teachers gathered in public protests and distributed leaflets at locations throughout Southern California today in response to layoff notices from budget-stressed school districts. Beyond the noise of rallies and speeches, however, teachers who responded to questions posed by KPCC are re-assessing the stability of their chosen profession.

Czarina Tran was laid off from her Los Angeles Unified School District teaching job last year, and has had difficulty getting back into full-time or even substitute teaching because of limits how often laid-off teachers may work as substitutes.

"At this point, I have lost hope in LAUSD. I have been (laid off) and more teachers will be. I don't have a fighting chance to get back into the teaching profession especially with the rise of charter schools, Tran said." I will most likely be part of reforming education marches and hopefully be part of a Early Childhood Education."

Special education teacher Jenna Landero expects to get a layoff notice this month because she is a temporary teacher in the Tustin Unified School District. The same thing happened last year. Although she loves teaching at Loma Vista Elementary – the same school she attended as a child – the education budget mess is forcing her out of public schools in Southern California.

“I have considered leaving education," she said. "But I refuse to do that, because I already feel that we don't have passionate, educated, well-rounded teachers in schools, so I feel it necessary to stay in it for that reason.

She said she is moving to Texas, considering advocacy for special education students and their families and is considering opening her own preschool.

Thomas Thieme, an elementary school teacher in the South Pasadena Unified School District, was not spared the layoff notice treatment last year, even though he has 33 years of experience teaching in a few different school districts. Getting an additional teaching credential kept him from being cut last year and he expects to also be safe from getting another layoff notice this year.

“But a lot of my colleagues are going through this a second year in a row. I can't help but think they have to be having a lot of conflicting emotions,” Thieme said. “Because we work with children, we tend not to regard ourselves as working in a world of bottom lines so it's hard to reconcile the fact that our success does not equal profit or even solvency.

“Some districts use this as an excuse to demand salary rollbacks and furloughs when they in fact have healthy reserves and/or have done nothing to curtail their own extravagances.”

Andie Wixom, who teaches elementary school students in the Menifee Union School District said there is a strong possibility that she and her colleagues will take six to nine unpaid days off in the next school year to avoid having to lay off teachers or increase class sizes.

"My feeling is that everyone is losing money, and we all have to pitch in and do what is right," she said of her support for furlough days off. "I would rather that everyone lose (about $1,000 in pay) than to see 10 to 20 people having to lose their class-size reduction."

In the Temecula Valley Unified School District, where her children attend, teachers with three or fewer years of experience get layoff notices and teachers take two unpaid days off. Menifee, she said, has not issued layoff notices in recent years.

Unions are groping for strategies to confront the budget cuts while keeping as many teaching jobs as possible. The union that represents teachers Garden Grove Unified School District, for example, is surveying teachers to ask if they are willing to accept larger class sizes in order to prevent deeper salary cuts. The union also asks teachers whether they are willing to teach the same number of days for less money, or if they would insist on schedule cuts to go with salary reductions.