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More than 1,000 local teachers could be spared the ignominy of receiving a dreaded pink slip this March. Legislation to be introduced shortly by local Assemblyman Marty Block proposes extending the legal deadline for issuing layoff notices for teachers from March 15 to May 15.

The later deadline would allow the district to have a better idea of the state budget before deciding how many staff must be issued pink slips. For the last few years, tight budgets have led the district to issue hundreds of layoff notices before March 15, only to rescind most of those notices a few months later as the state’s education budget crystallized.

The March 15 rule exists to give teachers more time to prepare for being laid off, but the rounds of pink slips, and their subsequent rescissions, have been blamed for causing unnecessary stress for local teachers, parents and schools in general.

The legislation comes after Block was contacted by both San Diego Unified School District officials and officials from the local teachers union, the San Diego Education Association.

Last week, the SDEA challenged the district to stand up to a “broken budget system.” The union urged the district to refuse to participate in the budget process, and said it should use its clout to change the budget system so mass layoff notices can be avoided.

The district responded by calling on the SDEA to join with it in asking legislators to introduce emergency legislation to change the March 15 deadline, which is enshrined in state law. Only by changing that deadline would the district truly be able to avoid issuing mass layoff notices, the district argued.

Today, the union officially endorsed that approach. Here’s a snippet from a press release the SDEA put out a couple hours ago:

The current process requires the District to “budget in the dark,” since the state budget isn’t finalized until June. Last year the District issued more than 1,300 layoff notices in order to receive budget approval from the County Office of Education. More than 90 percent of those layoffs were eventually rescinded by the District once accurate data was available.

Although just a temporary solution, extending the layoff-notice deadline for this year is an important quick fix to loosen the restrictions placed on the District’s ability to issue an accurate budget.

Final details of the legislation aren’t yet clear. The SDEA press release states that the union would only support changing the deadline for the San Diego Unified School District, and only on a temporary basis.

District Chief of Staff Bernie Rhinerson said the cooperation by the district and the union represents a warming in the relationship between the two sides, which has been frosty for the last few years.

“Yeah, that’s new,” Rhinerson said. “I think it’s very significant that we can work on this issue together.”

Rhinerson cautioned that the legislation may not pass easily. And he stressed that changing the deadline won’t affect the underlying financial crisis facing the district.

The district is estimating a $124 million budget deficit next year. That might change by $10 million or $15 million, Rhinerson said, but the deficit’s not going to disappear. The union has questioned that deficit, saying it’s actually much lower than the district claims.

For teachers, there’s also a flipside to changing the March 15 deadline.

If the state’s budget turns out to be as bad as forecast, the district may still need to issue layoff notices to hundreds of teachers in May. Those teachers will then have less time to prepare for potentially losing their jobs.

But if, as has happened in past years, the state’s budget turns out to be better than expected, the new legislation will avoid the landslide of pink slips for at least one year.

Will Carless is an investigative reporter at voiceofsandiego.org currently focused on local education. You can reach him at will.carless@voiceofsandiego.org or 619.550.5670.

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Will Carless

Will Carless was formerly the head of investigations at Voice of San Diego.

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