Steinberg appeases educators

JUNE 17, 2010

By EVELYN STACEY

On June 14, Senator Darrell Steinberg held a press conference at Edward Kemble Elementary, of Sacramento City Unified School District, to offer his support and solutions for schools in the midst of the budget crunch. The appearance came shortly after the senator’s op-ed in Sunday’s Sacramento Bee on SB 1285, his bill to reduce teacher layoffs in struggling schools statewide.

SB 1285 was last heard in the Senate back in May. Then, it addressed the punitive damages of human trafficking victims. The bill was then changed after the 31 to 0 in favor vote on May 13 to tackle the more pertinent issue of teacher job security.

“This is a very important reform and because of the budget cuts we wanted to take care if now instead of later,” Alicia Trost, an aide to Steinberg, said. “It will still get all the policy hearings.”

Teachers across the country are receiving layoff notices in droves. Jack O’Connell, California’s State Superintendent of Public Instruction, estimates that this year nearly 22,000 teachers will receive pink slips. But this bill intends to prevent teacher layoffs for recruited teachers at state identified low-performing schools. Currently, the law provides protection from layoffs for teachers in high demand fields, such as special education teachers, but does not ensure equality in determining which schools lay teachers off and which do not.

“We also know the consequences are not distributed equally among the schools,” Steinberg told the third grade class at Kemble. “In Sacramento City Unified, for example, 28 schools had no teachers receive final layoff notices this spring. Nine schools, by contrast, had more than 15 percent of faculty laid off and three schools lost more than 30 percent, nearly one out three of their teachers.” Edward Kemble Elementary, with 100 percent of students qualifying as socioeconomically disadvantaged, was one of the schools to experience a high rate of formal lay-off notices — 33 percent — compared to other schools in its districts.

The bill would also guarantee that low-performing school layoffs are equal to the district’s average percent. Superintendents would also have to assign teachers to schools in a way to create a better balance of experience. And the bill asks for federal funds to support these measures.

“We’re going to back to Washington D.C., even in these hard economic district times to pursue tens of millions of federal dollars to provide support and training for teachers in struggling schools,” Steinberg said at Kemble. “To me, it is sound.”

The legislation comes on the heels of a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union and Public Counsel against the State of California and the Los Angeles Unified School District in February fighting “disproportionately” decimating teaching staffs’ at three of LA’s lowest-performing schools.

SB 1285 has been sent to the Assembly Judiciary Committee and is awaiting a hearing date.

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