Like many school districts in California, Sweetwater Union High School District has been hit hard, financially. In anticipation of a $20 million shortfall, in March the district sent out over 200 pink slips to teachers, librarians, and counselors. But do pink slips aggravate the district’s financial situation?
The California Legislative Analyst’s Office released a report last month that gives taxpayers an understanding of the cost of pink slips. The report states: “Our survey indicates that districts on average spend roughly $700 per–noticed teacher, with the largest costs relating to district personnel and legal activities. With the cost estimates derived from our survey, we estimate that districts spent about $14 million statewide on layoff-related costs in 2010–11.”
Sweetwater’s costs continue to climb because pink-slipped teachers have a right to a hearing and the district pays for their substitutes. According to Alex Anguiano, president of the Sweetwater Teachers Association, hearings that took place on April 27 resulted in 19 layoffs being rescinded due to district errors. “Additional errors in calculating tie- breaking criteria may result in 40–50 more notices being rescinded.”
Anguiano called the pink-slip hearings “costly and unnecessary.” In the face of the last budget crisis, Anguiano said the association proved they were reasonable by consenting in advance to at least six furlough days.
In addition to costs, Anguiano is concerned about the chaos students will experience in the fall. “The master schedule is going to be a nightmare,” he said. Classes for the new school year will be staffed with fewer teachers. He estimates there is a loss of 189 full-time equivalent positions at this point and is anxious to know how the district will be able to honor the student-pupil staffing ratio that is in place.
Kris Elam, a U.S. history teacher in the district, is nervously waiting for the May 7 board meeting to find out if her pink slip becomes a permanent layoff. In an April 28 interview, Elam explained the cost of pink slips in human terms.:
“One big problem is I am single and have a mortgage. Many of my colleagues who might be laid-off have partners who can help them with money or health benefits. I don’t have anyone to fall back on. What am I going to do, move in with my mother?” Four times in the last five years she has received a pink slip.
If Elam is laid-off she loses her health benefits at the end of June and “even if the budgetary problems get better and I am hired back in July, I won’t receive a paycheck until the end of September.”
Personal stories like Elam’s might account for this additional fact taken from the state legislature’s report: “Reductions to school districts' budgets over the past five years have resulted in a sharp decline in the teacher workforce, with the number of full–time teachers decreasing by 32,000 since 2007–08.”