San Francisco Teacher Layoffs: Dozens Stage Protest Outside School Board Meeting

SAN FRANCISCO--Dozens of teachers, students and administrators flooded Tuesday night's Board of Education meeting to protest the flood of pink slips issued to over 485 teachers and support staff at almost every school in the San Francisco Unified School District.

Surprisingly, the most controversial part of the previous sentence isn't "pink slips." It's "almost."

At issue is the Board of Education's decision to exempt teachers within the Superintendent's Zone inside Mission and Bayview Hunter's Point neighborhoods from the layoffs instead of having them apply to equally to all educators (save those specializing in the high-need fields of math, science and special education).

The district created the zone in in 2010 to identify similar characteristics across various low-performing schools, including teacher turnover, segregation, test scores and student demographics. Such problems have been addressed through pouring millions of dollars into targeted teacher training--the main reason the board decided to exempt such educators from the layoffs.

Teachers' union spokesman Matthew Hardy described the zone and the schools protected within it as "arbitrary" to The Huffington Post. According to Hardy, many of the city's most poverty-stricken public educational facilities fall outside the zone and, as a result, had to bare more of the brunt of the layoffs than if they applied to all schools equally.

SFUSD spokesperson Gentle Blythe countered Hardy's argument, explaining to HuffPost that designating certain schools inside the Superintendent's Zone is far from an arbitrary process.

But Hardy pointed out that of the 51 most economically disadvantaged campuses in the district (as determined by the percentage of students receiving free or reduced cost lunch), 27 percent are covered within the zone. There are just over 100 schools in all of SFUSD.

He scoffed at the idea that expensive training justified giving teachers at schools within the zone the same pass as teachers with math, science or special education specializations.

While hundreds of San Francisco educators received pink slips this month, the number of teachers who will actually lose their jobs at the end of the school year is significantly lower.

In the era of massive state-level budget cuts to education, school districts across California are legally required to notify every staff member who could theoretically be laid off over the course of the next year by March 15. However, a large transfusion of cash from the city's Rainy Day Fund later in the year has typically managed to save the vast majority of the positions of getting the axe. Last year, only four teachers in all of SFUSD lost their jobs as a result of the pink slips.

San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee briefly suggested he was reticent to release the money to the district unless it created a plan to draw more revenue by renting out some of its surplus properties for private use, a widely-criticized proposal that state Assemblyman Tom Ammiano called "holding [school funding] hostage."

Lee has apparently backed off from that idea and since said he would released the money no strings attached.

Since the likelihood of carrying out these layoffs is relatively low, Hardy argued issuing the pink slips only to teachers at certain schools gives the targeted educators the impression that they aren't important, serving to potentially push them out of the profession.

James Galgano, a teacher at Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School in the Portola neighborhood, shares Hardy's sentiment. At Galgano's school, 82 percent of students are economically disadvantaged and about half are English language learners.

"While removing four young, excellent teachers, you have once again labeled our school a hard to fill school," Galgano told the commissioners at Tuesday's meeting. "They represent the best and the brightest of our faculty...They volunteered their mornings, their lunchtimes and even after school to work with the students. They shouldn't be rewarded for their devotion by not being returned to our school."