Leaving Finland

Lake Jyvasjarvi I have never lived anywhere for 5 months other than Jyvaskyla, Finland. As my Fulbright journey concludes, there is so much to still digest. It will take months, if not years, to truly assimilate all the learning. Before I left Southern California, I wrote about the what I would miss the most from home and what I  looked forward to experiencing in Finland. It is safe to say I met my goals. Top 7 Goals 1. Discussing Education Helsinki Workshop Through professional development programs, Fulbright Finland connected teachers with scholars and researchers, for the purpose of putting inquisitive minds together. The Making Democracies Resilient to Modern Threats seminar provided participants with fascinating research and presentations. 2. Nordic Model Bus station in Espoo What does an efficient and earnest country look like?  It looks like Finland. Yes, people pay higher taxes, but get so much in return. I for one appreciated the well-maintained ro

Cutting the School Year Short

This week, members of the United Teachers of Los Angeles will vote to approve 12 furlough days in the next 15 months. These furloughs translate in to a 5% pay cut. Should teachers vote for this measure, as a way to preserve jobs? Yes.

It is completely understandable why many UTLA members may want to vote this measure down. It is unclear whether the LAUSD has cut enough from its own bureaucracy in order to justify a pay cut for teachers. Although many districts have their budgets posted online as a way of promoting transparency, getting accurate numbers from LAUSD is like pulling teeth. As teachers see it, vast mismanagement of funds, and poor management in general led to a surplus of workers in a district with declining enrollment. Now, to balance the budget, teachers are asked to sacrifice pay. This is not okay.

Other UTLA members believe in the "last hired, first fired" way of fairly dealing with layoffs. That might make sense except at schools like L.A. Academy a.k.a. LAAMS (and Markham MS, and Fremont HS, and Jefferson HS) where no one wants to work, and thus are overly represented by bright-eyed, new teachers who had no other choice of where to work (we call them unknowingly lucky.)  When cuts come our way, we lose more teachers than in any other part of the district. In the 2009 Reduction in Force, South Central Los Angeles bore 40% of all the layoffs. Again, not okay, and the reason why the ACLU filed a lawsuit against the district.

Clearly, the system isn't perfect. The time has come for UTLA to take the lead in ensuring the fair distribution of new teachers across the district if it wants to maintain the current seniority system used to conduct layoffs. Otherwise, every time there is a turn in the economy, schools like LAAMS will be decimated and our students will be left as they are now, bereft of teachers who chose to work with them, planned to stay at our school for a long time, and were invested in the school and its programs.

From a teacher's point of view, starting over with new staff is at best, making no forward progress.  It takes time for teachers to learn about their new school, become familiar with the culture and climate, and to decide whether it is a place that is respectful and valuable for them to commit to.  All momentum towards academic improvement is stopped, and in many cases, goes back the other way.

A possible solution: across the board pay cuts. Every school and office takes the same cut. Teachers can keep their district seniority if they transfer to a hard to staff school, and they will be virtually guaranteed employment because the average years of experience at schools such as mine (84% teaching <5 years) is on the lower end. But if they insist on staying at a LACES HS or a Bravo HS, they run the risk of being laid off in a RIF year. This seems fair. On an issue like this, it is imperative for the agenda to be student, not adult-centered.

Finally, the shortening of the school year is the lesser of two evils  Far more harm will come to schools if you layoff the very people willing and able to make a difference in students' lives.  When we lost the people you see in the sidebar of this blog, it was like a piece of our collective LAAMS heart died.  We will never be able to replace the Ms. Sanlins and Ms. Umbers we lost to the budget cuts.  And it is a move that can never be undone.  Those 12 days will go by in a flash, but the loss of experienced and talented teachers is forever.

So UTLA members, we ask that you vote yes on the CBA.  The future of LAAMS depends on it.

Photo by Aaron Short



  1. Good analysis but not so good math in terms of the impact of the pay cuts on our salaries. You left out how two professional development days were added to the '10-'11 school year at the same time that 7 days were taken away. While this may or not help students it does certainly add to our salaries. As I do the math, 10 days divided by 360 days = 2.7% of our salary cut for two years.

    I do hope that teachers agree to the concessions to save teachers.

  2. Thanks Mathew, for your comment. You are right; there are two days added back for professional development. They will offset the cut. I arrived at the 5% figure from the UTLA Q & A fact sheet that explained it this way:

    "For C basis employees, each furlough day is equivalent to a .49% pay cut. For this school year, that roughly equals a 2.5% pay cut. For 2010-11, it would be a 3.5% pay cut, but that would be offset by two additional paid professional development days."

    I see what you are saying; it would be 2.5% each year.


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