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Wowser — our interactive map of which schools would be hit hardest if educators are laid off is sparking a lot of interest. Schools in the northern areas of the school district, which tend to be wealthier, are less likely to lose their teachers than schools in the southern, poorer areas of San Diego Unified.
But it seems like the map is also stirring up some confusion. Here are a few burning questions I’ve gotten from readers — and the answers you’ve been looking for:
Why would some schools be hit harder by layoffs than others? How does the school district choose which teachers to lay off?
Under California law, school districts are supposed to lay off the least senior teachers first. People commonly call this rule “last hired, first fired.”
There are some exceptions: School districts can opt to skip employees with rare or highly needed credentials. San Diego Unified is skipping some specialized science teachers and some special education teachers who work with kids with moderate to severe disabilities.
Teachers unions have generally argued that seniority is the only fair way to make the painful decision of who to lay off. But the result of “last hired, first fired” is that disadvantaged schools tend to be hit harder by layoffs because they tend to have less experienced teachers.
This rule was recently challenged in Los Angeles as being unfair to disadvantaged students. The American Civil Liberties Union sued and won a settlement that would protect some poorer schools from layoffs. But so far, there is no public plan in San Diego to lessen the impact of layoffs at poorer schools.
For a longer explanation, check out our San Diego Explained.
Does this mean some schools would have fewer teachers to handle their students than others?
No. The net effect for all schools is that class sizes would increase. While some schools would lose more teachers, they’d still need to be staffed. More seasoned teachers who were displaced from other schools would fill in the gaps.
But even though schools would still be staffed, losing the actual people is devastating. That’s not just because parents know those teachers. If teachers have worked together to try to conquer problems at their school, losing half of those teachers and having to replace them with newcomers is a huge blow to reform. And schools don’t always have a lot of control over which teachers they get.
Why do poorer schools have less experienced teachers in the first place?
Check out our article from roughly a year ago where we found that the poorest schools are more than twice as likely to lose teachers than the wealthiest schools. Teachers bid for jobs within San Diego Unified through a complicated system that often gives more experienced teachers an edge. So if working conditions are depressing in poor schools, teachers are likely to leave when they get a chance, which means a steady drain of more experienced teachers.
There are schools that have stopped the revolving door: In that same article on teacher turnover, we profiled Balboa Elementary, which has worked to retain more of its teachers. But changing a longtime trend takes time. Balboa is still one of the schools that would be hit hardest by layoffs.
Wait a second, my school could lose half of its teachers. Why does the map say we’d only lose about 30 percent?
The data are based on the percentage of teachers union employees at each school who stand to be laid off. The teachers union actually includes lots of employees besides teachers, such as counselors and nurses; its official name is the San Diego Education Association. So if your school is losing lots of teachers, but keeping other kinds of educators, the numbers may look lower.