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Seventeen schools in San Diego Unified would lose more than one-fourth of their teaching staff if the school board votes for layoffs this week, according to a memo from its deputy superintendent. The hardest hit school would be Baker Elementary, which would lose 44 percent of its educators.

Under state law, the newest teachers are generally the first to lose their jobs. It’s commonly known as “last hired, first fired.” That means schools with lots of new teachers get hit harder when layoffs strike, as we recently explained with NBC San Diego. Most of the hardest hit schools have high percentages of disadvantaged kids.

To put these numbers in perspective, the average San Diego Unified elementary school has 64 percent of students eligible for free or reduced price lunches; middle schools average 60 percent eligible.

The new numbers back up an old worry: That layoffs have a disproportionate impact on the neediest schools. The biggest school district in the state, Los Angeles Unified, recently struck a legal settlement with the Public Counsel Law Center and the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California to protect disadvantaged schools from teacher layoffs.

That means more senior teachers in other schools will end up losing their jobs instead. Los Angeles fought the settlement. Unions have generally argued that seniority is the fairest way to make the painful choice of which teachers should lose their jobs.

The same issue exists in San Diego Unified, but so far, there is no public plan to address it. The lawsuit in Los Angeles sets a legal precedent that someone could use to press the same case in San Diego, but the ruling only applies to Los Angeles. While state law says schools must pay attention to seniority when they lay off teachers, there is some wiggle room in the law to include other factors.

For instance, school districts can skip over employees in scarce or highly needed positions, sparing them from layoffs. San Diego Unified currently plans to skip employees in a few selected science and special education positions, such as physics teachers or educators who work with severely disabled students. I’m waiting for a call back to find out if there is any plan to spare struggling schools.

I’m also planning to delve deeper into these numbers and show the impact across the whole school district. Check back soon for more analysis on the possible layoffs.

Please contact Emily Alpert directly at emily.alpert@voiceofsandiego.org or 619.550.5665 and follow her on Twitter: twitter.com/emilyschoolsyou.

Emily Alpert

Emily Alpert was formerly the education reporter for Voice of San Diego.

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