Wednesday, May 14, 2008 | When all else fails, blame the unions (it’s much easier than thinking).

The Union Tribune’s Sunday editorial “Jackson in Jeopardy” is an exercise in misinformation taken to the extreme. The premise of the editorial that unions are responsible for the layoffs of teachers is the following:

“The district board is scheduled to vote Tuesday on laying off 24 of Jackson’s 26 teachers for one lousy but lawful reason: The state’s Education Code requires that, with a very few exceptions, seniority dictate who is laid off in school ‘reductions in force’ because of funding cuts.”

The union is not responsible for the laying off of Jackson teachers. Only school boards can lay teachers off, and the San Diego Unified School District Board is rushing into a speculative firing frenzy in reaction to Governor Schwarzenegger’s budget cuts. That said, what objective criteria other than seniority would be fair in the case of layoffs? Even our junior teachers acknowledge that seniority is the fairest criteria in the awful circumstance of layoffs.

The fact is that several other schools in SDUSD (Balboa El with 18 layoffs, San Diego HS with 20 layoffs, Mann MS with 20 layoffs) were hard hit but this editorial doesn’t include them. If we were somehow responsible for the laying off of the Jackson teachers, do we get credit for those that did not get laid off?

Then, the editorial goes further in attacking the teachers association:

“The union’s response was an unavailing legal procedure ostensibly to stop all district layoffs, but aimed at saving the seniority system, not Jackson Elementary.”

For what it’s worth, we made it easy for the district to restore nearly all the Jackson teachers. If we win, most Jackson teachers will not be getting layoff notices. During the recent layoff hearings, our union asserted that Jackson teachers (all but two of whom are among the most senior teachers being laid off) started work a day earlier than most teachers in 2003 — making them even more senior and therefore pushing them to among the first 30 to be rescinded (if the school board decides to rescind layoffs).

Then the final lie to them all:

“A system that rewards outstanding teachers with pink slips should give genuine pause to the taxpayers it pummels incessantly for funds.”

The system doesn’t lay off educators, a school board does. Clearly no one in SDUSD administration gave the school board a list of where their layoff notices would land. Maybe they would have changed their decision if SDUSD staff had shown them how schools like Jackson would look with all these layoffs. In fact, SDEA didn’t receive the list of layoffs by site until more than 24 hours after the board voted to RIF 900+ educators.

We’re tired of being the scapegoat for a system we don’t control (despite whatever the UT publishes). This school board has the money to rescind layoffs — they just don’t have the creativity or the political will to seek an alternative to disrupting lives and careers. It may seem like whining or passing the buck but we can only deal in reality and truth. No one is working harder than SDEA and our over 8,000 members to stop the layoffs. But we can’t move ahead unless we work with people of good will, integrity, and political courage. We’ll see if our school board can muster up any of these characteristics by their vote on Tuesday.  

Camille Zombro is the president of the San Diego Education Association. If you have any thoughts or comments, send a letter to the editor.

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