Teaching Profession

Schwarzenegger Backs Bill to End Seniority-Based Layoffs

By The Associated Press — April 27, 2010 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger of California has thrown his support behind a proposed state law that would prevent teacher layoffs based on seniority, a stance that’s drawn the ire of teachers’ unions while being lauded by civil rights activists.

Mr. Schwarzenegger appeared April 20 at Edwin Markham Middle School in the Watts area of Los Angeles, which lost more than half its teachers in layoffs last year because they were largely new hires.

“Several teachers of the year have gotten pink slips. How can that happen if they are award-winning teachers?” the governor told an auditorium full of cheering children. “It is very important we change the system.”

The California Teachers Association, which represents teachers statewide, and United Teachers Los Angeles, the union in the Los Angeles Unified School District, have denounced the bill proposed by state Sen. Robert Huff, a Republican.

The unions said the proposal infringes on teachers’ rights while glossing over the issue of underfunded public education.

The state has cut education funding by $17 billion over the past two years, resulting in the layoff of 16,000 teachers last year. Another 26,000 teachers have received layoff notices this year.

Split Responses

UTLA President A.J. Duffy said districts already have the ability to retain junior teachers if they have special training and experience.

Los Angeles Superintendent Ramon Cortines said he would support legislation that gives districts flexibility to retain talented teachers, as long as the process is developed with teachers’ unions and a task force in his district on effective teachers.

NAACP California state conference President Alice Huffman and other civil rights leaders said seniority-based layoffs disproportionately affect poor minority students because inner-city schools are often staffed with newer teachers.

“You deserve the same resources as an all-white school,” Ms. Huffman told the students at the middle school.

Gov. Schwarzenegger and other supporters of the proposed legislation pointed to the effects of seniority-based layoffs at Markham as well as two other inner-city schools that lost 50 percent to 75 percent of their teaching staffs last year.

The schools are the subject of a lawsuit by the ACLU of Southern California, which claims the 680,000-student Los Angeles district is violating students’ state constitutional right to a quality education by not adequately staffing classrooms.

Younger Teachers Hit

Markham Principal Tim Sullivan said last year’s layoffs devastated his team of “rock stars”—mostly younger new teachers eager to bring cutting-edge instructional methods to one of the city’s lowest-performing campuses.

Now, many classes are being taught by a bewildering succession of substitutes, leaving students with no stability in lessons. One substitute gave all students C’s because she didn’t know how to grade them, according to the lawsuit.

Markham English teacher Nicholas Melvoin said the first question jaded students ask teachers is how long they’re going to stay. Mr. Melvoin, 24, said his case is typical. After graduating from Harvard University, he was enthusiastic about going to work at a school like Markham. In his first year on the job, he got laid off.

Determined to stay at the school, he signed on in September as a long-term substitute at lower pay. He was rehired in January, only to receive a layoff notice in March.

Mr. Sullivan said schools in more-affluent neighborhoods simply haven’t been hit as hard because their teaching staffs are more stable and thus more senior.

“I can’t go through this process of teacher decimation for the second straight year,” he said. “I need an entire staff.”

A version of this article appeared in the April 28, 2010 edition of Education Week as Schwarzenegger Backs Bill to End Seniority-Based Layoffs


Student Well-Being K-12 Essentials Forum Boosting Student and Staff Mental Health: What Schools Can Do
Join this free virtual event based on recent reporting on student and staff mental health challenges and how schools have responded.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Curriculum Webinar
Practical Methods for Integrating Computer Science into Core Curriculum
Dive into insights on integrating computer science into core curricula with expert tips and practical strategies to empower students at every grade level.
Content provided by Learning.com
Jobs Virtual Career Fair for Teachers and K-12 Staff
Find teaching jobs and other jobs in K-12 education at the EdWeek Top School Jobs virtual career fair.

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Teaching Profession Could Reimagining Teaching Help Teachers Love Their Jobs More? Here’s How
Some districts and schools have created new roles and opportunities for teachers.
6 min read
Tight crop of teacher fist bumping blurred Black school girl.
Teaching Profession Substitute Teachers Would Like You to Stop Treating Them Like Babysitters
A research review found that substitute teachers get little respect and professional training.
6 min read
 Back view of a male teacher in classroom lecturing to elementary school students.
Teaching Profession Opinion Teachers of Color Face Unique Challenges. Here Are Some of Them
Teaching is hard enough, but educators of color face additional—often invisible—tasks.
16 min read
Images shows colorful speech bubbles that say "Q," "&," and "A."
Teaching Profession Opinion 'You Work for Us': How a Student's Slight Captures the Disrespect Teachers Face
Compare the treatment of teachers with other public servants and you’ll notice a disturbing trend.
Jherine Wilkerson
4 min read
Opinion illustration of teachers and students, about job perceptions.
Dedraw Studio/iStock/Getty