L.A. Teachers Union Loses Historic Lawsuit to ACLU: No More 'Last Hired, First Fired'
Update: L.A. Mayor, Board of Education Prez and Superintendent-to-be join the victory lap.
This one's for the kids.
An L.A. Superior Court judge ruled just a few hours ago, in Reed v. State of California, et al., that seniority can no longer be a factor in teacher layoffs throughout the Los Angeles Unified School District.
The strict seniority formula -- when coupled with a teacher's right to refuse to work at certain schools -- provided for a chaotically rapid-fire "last hired, first fired" turnover rate at already disadvantaged schools in South and East L.A.
After months of kicking, screaming and crying liar liar, the United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA) union, led by staunchly anti-reform A.J. Duffy, are big-time losers today. On the other end, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Public Counsel and Morrison &Foerster law firms take the trophy.
Kids in 45 low-performing L.A. schools, however...
... are the real victors. They may finally have the chance, and the legal right, to learn from a stable set of quality educators.
Under today's ruling, these 45 "targeted schools" -- determined by performance, staffing difficulty and projected effects of teacher turnover -- will be protected from "budget-based teacher layoffs" and provided with "support and resources aimed at stabilizing and improving these schools, including retention incentives for teachers and principals."
Back when the ACLU and the L.A. Board of Education made the settlement in October, two different law professors told the Los Angeles Times that, if a judge were to approve it, a seniority-nixing lawsuit like this would affect policy throughout the nation.
"This is a shifting of the tectonic plates," said David Gregory, a professor of labor law at St. John's College in New York City. "If this were to move forward, every major district in the country is going to look to this as the model.... It would be the most innovative system in the country -- if it comes to pass."
And come to pass it has.
From the ACLU's triumphant press release today:
The plaintiffs filed the lawsuit against the state and LAUSD for carrying out budget cuts that disproportionately affected the three schools, decimating their teacher staffs. While many schools around the state lost zero teachers to the budget crisis, more than half of the teaching staffs at Gompers, Liechty and Markham middle schools lost their jobs as permanent teachers. At Liechty, 72 percent of the teachers received layoff notices; at Markham, the layoffs included almost the entire English department along with every 8th grade history teacher.
In court, City University of New York professor Michelle Fine testified against UTLA:
"This is very sad case; it is about distributing pain," she said. "We have policies that have distributed pain and burden in a way that low-income schools have for generations paid a price."
LA Weekly piece "LAUSD's Dance of the Lemons," from February 2010, delved into frustrating union roadblocks that allowed only 4 of 33,000 Los Angeles teachers to be fired over the last decade, despite the apparent inability of many to do the job effectively.
An extensive Los Angeles Times investigation of LAUSD faculty made this educational injustice very apparent, in that -- though some teachers were clearly more effective in advancing their students academically -- there was no way to lay off the ones who were lagging.
Instead, the superficial "first hired, last fired" formula always prevailed.
As of this afternoon -- no more.
Update: Mayor Villaraigosa says the lawsuit was originally filed at his request. Today, he spams out an official reaction to the ruling:
"This decision is a victory for all Los Angeles students. I applaud Judge [William F.] Highberger for recognizing how devastating these layoffs are and understanding just how difficult it is to find teachers who are up to challenge of teaching in communities long-plagued by drugs, abuse, violence and gangs. All California students have the right to a quality education, no matter their ZIP code or parents' income level. This decision will help keep dedicated and effective teachers where they belong: in the classroom."
And we can't forget L.A. Board of Education President Monica Garcia, who tiptoes the line between union-ites and reformers:
"I am grateful today on behalf of every child, employee, and board member of the Los Angeles Unified School District. We have a very hard job ahead of us. Come March 15, we will have to send thousands of letters to teachers to tell them they might not have a job next year. The fact that we can now factor things other than seniority will help us serve our students better."
Last but not least, incoming LAUSD Superintendent John Deasy keeps it short 'n' sweet, if equally tiptoed:
"This settlement agreement calls for additional compromise, for which our arms are fully outstretched towards our labor partners."
Update: UTLA Vice President Julie Washington tells the Associated Press that the union plans to appeal Judge Highberger's ruling -- to be expected, but still, somewhat of a light sprinkle on the disadvantaged schoolchildren's parade today, if you ask us.
[UTLA] will appeal the ruling because it is unfair to pass on layoffs to teachers who have earned their jobs and skills, said [Washington].
"What it is really saying is that experience in teaching has no value," she said. "We feel that this remedy, if allowed to go through, will actually exacerbate the problem."
Wait -- back up. Teachers who have earned their skills? Not to get too Ayn Rand up in here, but if anyone, at any time, finds a way to explain to us how one's skills can possibly be acquired through an earning process, feel free to let us know.
Now back to the AP report:
The union was supported by state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson, who filed a brief opposing the settlement on Friday noting it "could have far reaching, unintended consequences throughout the state."
As for Washington's UTLA boss -- where's huffy Duffy when you need a quote?