You can spot the kids in the Academy of Finance at San Diego High School of Business on Tuesdays, crisp in sports coats and suits. They tough out economics classes together and pledge to keep their grades up. They polish their resumes, practice interviews and intern at businesses. They go camping and scope out colleges.

But to Miguel Gonzalez, a once-shy senior who dreams of becoming an economist, being part of the academy, a shared set of classes and opportunities that students have to apply to get into, is more than the suits and the internships. It’s even more than the promise of advanced classes and business savvy at a school where test scores are meager and 90 percent of kids are poor.

“It’s a big family,” he said.

And if that family had a mom, it would be Kelly Granfield. She sets up internships and job shadows, ferrets out grants — one helps pay for her time — recruits students and coordinates college trips. When kids clash in suits and white tube socks, she hands out dress socks from a stash in her office.

The academy has blossomed on her watch, growing larger and more lauded. It’s even won national recognition. Granfield plans to go to the ceremony in San Francisco in July. But she might lose her job just a few weeks beforehand. In March Granfield got a pink slip, a warning that she might be out of a job when the school year ends.

“Would we still be a family? Sure,” said fellow teacher Mark Colombo. “But it would never be the same.”

Principal Joe Austin says she would likely be replaced by a displaced school administrator who’d bump down to her spot. Teachers who team up with her in the academy say it would cripple the program. And Granfield says she isn’t ready to go. She can’t shake the words from the school district notice.

“‘Your services are no longer necessary,’” Granfield repeated. “I just kept reading that.”

Hers is only one of many stories in the sea of pink slips. San Diego Unified warned more than 1,300 educators that their jobs were on the line; now the numbers have been scaled back to less than 900.

Teachers have gotten pink slips in the past only to see those warnings melt away as budgets get better. Three years ago, San Diego Unified warned nearly 1,000 teachers they were on the chopping block, and ended up sparing most. But this year, educators fear things could get worse, not better.

The school district faces an estimated deficit of roughly $114 million, and if the state stops guaranteeing the bare minimum in school funding, it could be stuck with as much as $55 million more in cuts. The governor will release a revised budget this month, but the legislature has often lagged before polishing off a final budget, which could leave schools unsure about their bottom line for months.

Parents and kids have begged to keep teachers they cherish. But California teachers lose their jobs based mostly on their years on the job and the credentials they hold. When treasured teachers like Granfield are cut loose, everyone agrees it’s a problem.

Nobody can seem to agree on the solution.

For Principal Austin, it’s aggravating that a teacher who has mobilized the outside community to help in their school, an example of the community-based reform San Diego Unified has pushed for, is now in jeopardy. It doesn’t help that his school is one of the ones hit harder by layoffs, with a fifth of his teachers at risk.

For the business chiefs who sit on the academy’s advisory board, it’s galling that it doesn’t matter that Granfield works her tail off. In this tiny academy with its squadron of business backers, the ideals of the business world have run headlong into the realities of how schools are run.

“Here’s a person that has absolutely excelled, losing a job,” said Cliff Schmidt, a board member who works at Morgan Stanley Smith Barney. “That’s unbelievable to a businessman.”

Elsewhere, some superintendents and politicians have agitated against the “last-in-first-out” system. Disadvantaged schools tend to have newer teachers and so get walloped worst by layoffs. After a court battle, Los Angeles Unified halted layoffs at some of its neediest schools, spreading the pain to other, less disadvantaged schools.

While California enshrines seniority as the main basis for teacher layoffs in state law, other states have turned away from it. Georgia just passed a bill to lay off teachers based on performance. So have Utah and Colorado. But here and across the country, there is still fierce disagreement over how to measure teachers — let alone how to use those measurements in layoffs.

Teachers unions oppose tying layoffs to performance, arguing that budget woes shouldn’t be used as a back door to fire teachers. Labor leaders complain that debates about whether there are better ways to slash teachers are a distraction. The real problem, they say, is that teachers are being laid off at all.

The year-after-year onslaught of pink slips for teachers has been blamed for dropping numbers of teachers-to-be enrolling in training programs. And even when pink slips are canceled, teachers often drift away, unwilling to wait to find out if they have a job. Granfield says she can’t hold off all summer.

Granfield came to the Academy of Finance seven years back, fresh from student teaching at Hoover High. Her credential is in business education; she used to work as an accountant in Boston before realizing that she loved the single hour she spent each week volunteering with kids and loathed the rest.

The Academy of Finance existed before she got there. But Granfield is credited with kicking it into overdrive, quietly getting things done. “She’s got this agenda on her table every day,” said Clarence Reyes, who is about to graduate from the academy at just 16. “And she’s got to get it all finished.”

Schmidt and some of his coworkers are offering Granfield a bailout. They say they’ll pony up the money to try to keep her at the academy, putting their money where their mouths are. But it isn’t clear if they can. Schools have been urged to protect “positions not people.” So they might be able to save a job for another business teacher — but not guarantee that Granfield gets it.

As Granfield wonders about her future, school district officials say they’ll look case-by-case. So the school is left with the same question being asked in schools across the district: What about this case? Out of many, what about this one?

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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