Four years ago, families of three Los Angeles Unified School District sued the State and the school district over the State’s reduction in education funding in response to the 2008 recession and LAUSD’s subsequent decision to layoff thousands of teachers. The plaintiffs’ schools, which primarily serve students of color, children from poverty backgrounds and English Language Learners, suffered significantly greater reductions in staff than most other schools in the system due to seniority rules in statutes and local collective bargaining agreements. Holding that the school district “could not bargain away students’ constitutional rights,” the State Superior Court, LA county, promptly issued a preliminary injunction barring the school district from implementing any budget-based layoffs of classroom teachers at the three schools that were the subject of the litigation.
In October 2010, the Plaintiffs reached an agreement with Los Angeles Unified School District and the State of California to settle the Reed case. That agreement would have prevented budget-based layoffs in up to 45 high need schools in LAUSD. The teachers union, which was not a party to that settlement , objected to that agreement. On August 12, 2012, a Court of Appeals held that the city and the plaintiffs could not enter into a consent judgment that extended their settlement to 45 schools without allowing the union, whose members’ seniority rights were at issue, to have a full trial on the issues. The case was sent back to the trial court for further proceedings.
The new three-year agreement, to which the union is now a party, seeks to improve teacher quality at high need schools, but does not address the seniority layoff issues. The settlement will provide thirty seven schools with more counselors, administrators and greater teacher training. Additionally, principals will receive hiring bonuses and increased salaries after their first and second years. The agreement also calls for increased compensation for mentor teachers who train less experienced colleagues. The intent of the agreement is to attract more senior teachers to these schools, to improve the quality of less experienced teachers and to reduce teacher turnover at these schools.
The Los Angeles teachers union had opposed the original settlement because that agreement would have imposed a greater proportion of teacher layoffs in times of fiscal constraint on other, non-protected schools in the system. In a statement discussing its reasons for signing on to the current agreement, the union conceded that it “recognizes that the agreement for additional resources does not address all of the factors that create high-turnover schools and that all under-resourced sites deserve extra supports. But this agreement is a step in the right direction.”
Teacher job protection issues are currently being litigated in another Los Angeles County Superior Court case. In Vergara vs. California, plaintiffs are challenging both the seniority layoff rules and the current teacher tenure statute. They argue that constitutional rights of students especially in high need schools are violated because they have a higher chance of being taught by weaker teachers. Ted Boutrous, attorney for the education advocacy group Students Matter, represents the Vergara plaintiffs. He noted that while the Reed settlement could potentially be a “tremendous victory” for students, seniority rules will still “continue to harm low-income and minority students every time there is a layoff in California.”