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School board member Kevin Beiser calls it the “pink slip yo-yo.” School districts don’t know exactly what their budgets look like yet, but have to decide if they’re going to warn teachers of layoffs by March 15.

Districts often end up laying off fewer teachers once they get their actual budget numbers. Even if they end up being canceled, layoff warnings cause a lot of anxiety and even spur teachers to leave.

But what if school districts could wait to warn teachers about layoffs until they had better information about their budgets? The nonprofit Education Trust West argues that we should do just that:

Lacking accurate budget information, and with fewer than two and a half months to make critical personnel decisions, many district leaders make conservative calculations about projected deficits and send layoff notices to any certificated staff member in danger of losing their job. As a result, districts often send far more notices than are necessary.

Our data reveal that of the 6,600 pink slips sent to teachers in three of California’s largest districts in March of 2010, 78 percent were rescinded by July 1. If this rescission rate is similar statewide, we can estimate that fewer than 5,000 jobs — of the 22,000 initially projected — were actually lost in 2010. And that estimate is likely to be on the high side.

Back in January, I asked State Superintendent Tom Torlakson about whether California would consider delaying the deadline. Torlakson didn’t think it would change much. He said that despite the frustrations with layoff scares, the March 15 deadline made sense to give teachers time to search for other jobs.

Other leaders have told me that delaying the deadline wouldn’t go over well with the state teachers unions, since teachers could lose advance warning on layoffs. So I was surprised when the president of the local teachers union, Bill Freeman, said it’s something that could and should get done.

My concern is we’re alarming teachers. We’re alarming the community. And in some cases we’ll run teachers off. If they receive a pink slip and there’s a job somewhere else, that’s a bird in the hand. They are going to go there. I’ve been going to tearful teachers all day today and saying, ‘Listen, we don’t think this is going to go forward, so we don’t want you to make any decisions about this.’ It’s just not right. It’s not the right thing to do.

The change would need to happen in Sacramento, since the rules are part of state law.

I’d love to hear from teachers on this: Does the March 15 deadline make sense? Would you rather have an early warning that proves to be false — or a later warning that might be more accurate?

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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