March 15 has become an annual ritual marked by pain and distress for thousands of California teachers who will receive pink slips by the end of the day today, or will be waiting to receive them in the mail.
The last time most school districts did not have to issue layoff notices was in 2007-08, a year that is fast fading from memory.
"This will be the fourth bad year in a row," said Rick Pratt, assistant executive director of the California School Boards Association. He said according to figures gathered by the California Teachers Association, districts across the state had issued some 22,000 pinks slips as of last week. The CTA will announce the cumulative total this afternoon after a series of events mark the day's grim significance.
UPDATE: The CTA announced on March 15 that so far districts have issued nearly 19,000 layoff notices, which does not include all districts, or an estimated 6,000 non-credentialled school employees. A further tally will be issued on Friday March 18.
State law requires districts to issue pink slips by March 15. They can rescind the layoffs by May 15, but they cannot issue new ones, except through an untested legal strategy that most districts are unlikely to attempt, Pratt said.
But the pain will be felt in virtually every region of the state. Thousands of California teachers – most of them the one's with the least seniority – will almost certainly join California's unemployment lines that show no signs of shrinking. California's 12.4 percent unemployment rate is the second highest in the nation, exceeded only by Nevada.
The jobs threatened in Los Angeles alone are equivalent to the job losses that occurred. for example, when Toyota closed the NUMMI plant in Fremont two years ago. But in this case, teachers aren't working on an assembly line that can be shut down, but educating children who will come to school regardless of whether teachers are there or not. So the layoffs don't mean ending a line of products, but rather will mean larger class sizes, shorter school years, and in general far less individual attention for children, as California Watch has documented in several stories over the past 18 months.
Districts appear to have little confidence that the special election Gov. Jerry Brown wants to call this summer to extend some $12 billion in taxes will actually happen, and if it does, whether voters will support it. According to State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson, the tax extensions would raise $4.5 billion for K-12 schools. Most districts are issuing pink slips based on the assumption that they won't have those funds to keep teachers on their payroll.
Hopes for a successful June election dwindled even further with the news that talks with the handful of Republican lawmakers who might have provided the necessary votes in the Legislature to place it on the ballot had broken down over the weekend.
By far the biggest "reduction in force," or RIF as it is typically referred to in education circles, will most likely be in Los Angeles which is expected to issue layoff notices to some 4,000 teachers and thousands of other staff.
Orange County school districts are expected to issue pink slips to nearly 1,500 teachers, counselors and other "certificated" employees, according to a detailed analysis by the Orange County Register. By far the most will be in the Capistrano Unified School District, which told the Register it plans to issue 155 pink slips.
Inland Empire districts surveyed by the Inland Daily Bulletin say they will lay off 600 teachers. The San Francisco Unified school board has voted to issue more than 400 pink slips. Oakland schools plans to send out out layoff notices to 657 employees, some of whom work part time, according to district spokesperson Troy Fint.
Flint said the layoff notices, which represent 538 full-time-equivalent employees, are based on a projected reduction of $900 per child, or a total reduction of $24 million in the district's budget.
Some districts have been able to avoid layoffs with the help of funds received last year through the $10 billion Education Jobs Funds approved by Congress last summer – something that would be unimaginable in the current budget-cutting mood in the House of Representatives today.
As a result of $8.3 million in federal monies it received from the fund, Santa Ana Unified, Orange County's largest district, says it won't have to lay off any teachers. Ten other districts in Orange County will similarly be able to avoid layoffs, according to the Orange County Register survey.
The state school board association's Pratt, a leading school finance expert, said there is one possible scenario by which districts could lay off additional teachers if they haven't given them a pink slip by today.
He said under a little known state law, if a school's general purpose funding did not increase by at least 2 percent over the previous school year, then districts could lay off teachers that didn't get the March notice.
The window for that would open five days after the Legislature and Gov. Brown enacted a budget, and would close on Aug. 15. But Pratt said this strategy had never been tested in court. That makes it unlikely that districts will take a chance and not issue pink slips now, and instead rely on a speculative legal maneuver to do so at a later time.