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One big complaint that always comes up about teacher layoffs — besides that they happen at all — is that the newest teachers are cut loose first. One local school system is trying to dodge that.

Because newer teachers earn less than senior teachers, more teachers end up being lost when budget cuts come around. Disadvantaged schools, which tend to have less-experienced teachers, get hit harder by layoffs as a result.

Yet Sweetwater Union High School District has found a way to ensure that layoffs aren’t entirely based on seniority. California law states that in most cases, school districts must dismiss teachers based on seniority, but it allows schools to “skip” less experienced teachers who have specific qualifications that their districts need.

Sweetwater is trying to avoid cutting in subject areas that often struggle to lure teachers: Math, special education, science and specific programs for English learners and reading comprehension. It’s up to an administrative judge who reviews school layoffs to decide whether Sweetwater can skip them.

If it’s allowed, Sweetwater could cut more experienced teachers in other subjects. And that, in turn, means it could cut fewer teachers. Sweetwater has sent out roughly 120 layoff warnings to teachers, but hopes it will ultimately cut only 70 educators, said Rita Beyers, assistant superintendent of human resources.

Sweetwater did the same thing last year, Beyers said, but the judge only allowed them to skip math, science and special education teachers, and turned down their request to skip teachers with bilingual credentials. The school district ended up not laying off anyone last year.

Do you know of other local school districts that are trying to cut fewer teachers through skipping? Shoot me an e-mail at emily.alpert@voiceofsandiego.org.

— EMILY ALPERT

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