2011-12-25 "Teachers union sues Sacramento City schools over seniority rights in layoffs"
The Sacramento City Unified School District is fighting a civil lawsuit filed by its teachers union over teacher seniority rights in rehiring after layoffs.
The Sacramento City Teachers Association's lawsuit comes months after the union fought the district's decision to utilize a seldom used provision in Education Code in order to not layoff teachers at six persistently low-performing schools.
The result of the civil lawsuit in Sacramento Superior Court could have implications on a growing movement by some of the largest California districts. More and more districts are deviating from purely seniority-based layoffs and in the ensuing rehiring process.
"We just want to see everyone treated equally instead of some getting special treatment," said SCTA President Scott Smith. "Basically, we are saying the way in which they skipped teachers was incorrect."
Lawyers for Sacramento City Unified School District say the case, which was filed in November, should be dismissed because it is "utterly lacking in key details such as naming any teacher or counselor who was laid off and refused reemployment in violation of the Education Code," according to court filings.
California law requires that, in a time of budget-based layoffs, teachers with the least experience in a school district are the first to go.
There are, however, two exceptions under the law: districts can skip teachers to maintain or achieve equal protection under the law or in hard-to-staff areas, like special education, science, math and bilingual education.
In March, Sacramento City Unified voted not to lay off teachers at six of the district's persistently failing schools, which Superintendent Jonathan Raymond labeled Priority Schools.
The district argued that priority school teachers received special training that, under the Education Code, allowed for skipping those instructors during the layoff process.
When SCTA fought the district on that decision, it was brought before the Office of Administrative Hearings and an administrative law judge, who ruled in Sacramento City Unified's favor at five of the six priority schools for this school year.
SCTA's most recent civil suit challenges how the district filled vacancies at the priority schools.
"The priority school thing has been a vague concept from the beginning," Smith said. "The amount of training they received was minimal at best. Other schools had received the exact same training."
Teachers unions have argued that seniority-based layoffs eliminate favoritism and keep expertise in the classroom. Unions also say seniority-based rules keep districts from laying off veteran instructors to keep cheaper, younger teachers.
Education Trust-West Executive Director Arun Ramanathan said the "last-in, first-out" method of teacher layoffs violates basic principals of fairness and equality for students.
Ramanathan said Education Trust-West has studied how seniority-based layoffs disproportionately affect low-performing schools in poor neighborhoods. Studies have shown those schools tend to have higher turnover because they are staffed with the least experienced teachers.
Ramanathan praised Sacramento City for its efforts to mitigate turnover at its priority schools.
In September, the district praised gains in test scores at the priority schools – Oak Ridge, Father Keith B. Kenny Elementary, Jedediah Smith Elementary, Fern Bacon Basic Middle, Will C. Wood Middle and Hiram W. Johnson High. A seventh school – Rosa Parks Middle School – was added earlier this year.
Oak Ridge in Oak Park saw an 82-point jump in its Academic Performance Index score.