Long Beach teachers still face layoffs

Long Beach teacher Vanessa Dody at a recent hearing for pink-slipped teachers.
Long Beach teacher Vanessa Dody at a recent hearing for pink-slipped teachers.
Adolfo Guzman-Lopez/KPCC

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Long Beach Unified is one of several Southland school districts that have yet to make final the list of teachers they plan to lay off to help close funding deficits.

The school district sent 10 preliminary pink slips to teachers at Whittier Elementary School. Rather than put the envelopes in teacher mailboxes, Principal Ed Garcia said he left each teacher a note for a one-on-one meeting.

"I’m sure when they got that note in their box to come see me they had an idea of what was happening," he said.

He says no one got mad; no one cried. Whittier Elementary had weathered other crises in recent years that united the school community. Garcia says he believes talking with teachers throughout the layoff process helped keep morale from sinking.

"I’ve heard things at other schools that there have been, that factions have started, the questioning — why did you get it, why didn’t I get it, why didn’t this person get it. That hasn’t happened here, luckily."

Whittier Elementary fifth-grade teacher Linda Mank appreciated Garcia’s tact. She’s been a public school teacher for 25 years. She received a pink slip in March because she’s been with Long Beach Unified for nine years. And that put her low on the seniority list.

"As an elementary school teacher, where I’m teaching the future of America, I value my profession very highly. And then to get this letter that says, ‘thanks, see you later’ even though I knew it was coming, it was still a shock, I couldn’t talk, I got a lump in my throat," Mank said.

Less than a month after she got the layoff notice, she got great news — the school district recalculated the budget numbers — and decided to rescind her layoff.

"My principal was considerate enough to bring it in to my classroom while I was teaching, after lunch, to give it to me on the Friday afternoon before Spring break, so that I would have that information when I went on vacation. But the teachers on either side of me didn’t get theirs rescinded and many of my friends that I’m working with right now got layoff notices and didn’t get theirs rescinded," she said.

Linda Mank says letting teachers go will hinder educational consistency, collaboration, and community; the formula she’s embraced for nine years to improve education at this school.

You’d expect divisions among teachers, but Mank says that hasn’t been the case at Whittier Elementary. About half a dozen teachers still face layoffs.

One of them is Mank’s fellow fifth-grade teacher Vanessa Dody. She's in her late 30s. Some teachers her age have a decade and a half of teaching under their belts. That seniority has spared them from layoffs. Dody became a teacher five years ago.

"Mom happened to get really sick so I took seven years off to take care of her. And after about a year I realized, after she passed away, that the thing that was most important to me is making sure that our future was going to make it," she said.

Dody stood outside Long Beach Wilson High School before recent hearings for pink-slipped teachers challenging their layoffs. She holds out hope that she can find a job if she’s laid off. In the meantime, she’s cut spending on clothes, theater tickets, and eating out.

Paying the mortgage on her new condo is worrisome. Not as much, she says, as the sleep she loses over her fifthgraders and how they’ll fare next year if she and other teachers are gone — and class sizes increase.

"At our school we used to have library every week for all the kids. Now it’s very other week and it’s less time. We used to have reading specialists that would help some of our kids. We have none of those anymore," she said.

Vanessa Dody says most teachers at Whittier have tried to hide the effects budget cuts have had in the classroom — but that was a mistake. Now, she says, they believe it’s time to let everyone see that public education isn’t as good as it used to be — and it’s getting worse.