LAUSD Teacher Furlough Deal Criticized as ‘Step Backward’

The compromise deal between the Los Angeles Unified School District and the union that represents its teachers that would see the school year shrink by a week is being greeted by some as a step back in the district's attempt to improve academic outcomes for its students. The preliminary agreement would see the 2012-13 school year shortened by five school days in lieu of extensive teacher layoffs and threatens to undermine the progress made by LAUSD schools in their efforts to meet stricter educational standards.

All sides agree that the pact is bad for students but some insist it was unavoidable. The district had come under increasing pressure to avoid eliminating adult education and elementary arts programs and sharply increasing class sizes, among other things. The union wanted to spare more than 4,000 teachers and others from layoffs, although it still stands to lose more than 1,300 members.

The shorter school year comes as student achievement already is threatened by larger classes, diminished counseling, slashed summer school and fewer resources to maintain clean, orderly campuses. At the same time, L.A. Unified is under pressure to boost test scores, and use them as part of teacher evaluations.

The last-minute compromise preempted a scheduled vote by the LAUSD's Board of Education that sought to make the preliminary layoff notices sent to teachers earlier in the year permanent. The plan, which translates to a roughly 5% pay cut in teacher salaries, was thought to be a better alternative for the district's students.

LAUSD is not the only district in the state forced to choose between a truncated school year or extensive staffing cuts. With many parts of the state suffering funding shortfalls due to reduced state education subsidies and other economic factors, limited teacher furloughs are extensively used to meet cost obligations and keep schools operating. Overall, at the negotiating table, the unions seem inclined to accept mandatory time off, since furloughs are typically in effect only for the coming school year, and often are often not renewed in the following years.

In the process, teachers avoid making permanent concessions on pension or health benefits. L.A. Unified employees still pay no monthly premiums for health insurance for themselves or family members. And teachers still receive raises based on experience or additional education.

At the same time, trimming the school year could generate the outrage needed to build public support for boosting state funding, said Dan Schnur, director of the Jesse Unruh Institute of Politics at USC.

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