This week, 84 teachers in the Saugus Union School District were put on notice that their jobs were in jeopardy. Seventy-four permanent plus 10 temporary teachers are expected to receive formal RIF notices (Reduction in Force) more popularly known as pink slips.
(Left and clockwise: SUSD teachers Abby Hughes, Cheryl Cameron, Melissa Valencia, Elizabeth Mills, Nancy Tomei, and Lynn Greenfield.)
(Editor's note: Mark Archuleta was a substitute teacher in the Saugus Union School District for two years and his wife is currently a teacher in the district but not subject to the RIF notice)
“The district has decided in order to save money they need to go to a 30-to-1 student to teacher ratio,” said Cheryl Cameron, teacher at Bridgeport Elementary in Valencia.
Which means fewer teachers will be needed and therefore the RIF notices.
Cameron was chosen as spokesperson for a group of teachers (Abby Hughes, Melissa Valencia, Elizabeth Mills, Nancy Tomei, and Lynn Greenfield) who are speaking out about the yearly threats of layoffs, the importance of low student to teacher ratios, how teachers are spending their own money for basic classroom supplies, and how furlough days are pitting teachers against each other.
“If parents haven’t noticed before and gotten involved, I think this is a big red flag when you see this happening. This is what we see in LA Unified, this is not what we’ve seen in this valley,” said Cameron.
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Because State law defines layoff procedures for teachers as a ‘Last In, First Out’ policy those with the least time working in the district are threatened first. This go-round teachers between five and eight years of experience in the district have been notified that they could be laid off.
“We’re cutting pretty deeply into the fabric of our leadership team. West Creek is losing a lot of leaders from the leadership team at the school level. A lot people who serve on important committees in the district. It’s really the core (leadership) of our schools that we’re seeing receive notices this time,” said Cameron.
(A Thursday call to Saugus Union School District Administrator Richard Grove Assistant Superintendent of Personnel was not returned by news time Friday. District offices were closed Friday through Monday for the President's Day holiday.)
Cameron believes the public has become weary of the threats to teacher’s jobs that don’t materialize. She likens it to the story of the Boy Who Cried Wolf.
“Has it happened before? Yes. This year it looks particularly bad. In years past I would have told you, ‘Y’know, I think we’ll be able to work it out. We won’t see numbers that high.’ This year my gut feeling tells me that while some of those notices will be rescinded, we’re looking at a lot of layoffs,” Cameron said.
Not only are teachers being threatened with layoffs, they are also looking at having to forego a portion of their salary by agreeing to four furlough days before the end of the year. Teachers say in the years past they’ve been asked to vote to take money out of their wallets and give it back to save other teacher’s their jobs.
“It’s a pretty difficult position if taking a large number of furlough days is going to keep you from being able to pay your mortgage. So you may be choosing between meeting your own mortgage payment and seeing your friend lose their career, said Cameron.
However, there’s no guarantee giving back will save any jobs this year.
Teachers are also spending their own paychecks to provide basic supplies for their classrooms. Cameron admits, as a teacher at Bridgeport, her parents are wealthier and contribute more money than the parents at other schools in the district but she is still spending her own cash.
“My parents have been wonderfully generous but I have spent this year hundreds of dollars on printer ink and paper. Things that we should have that we do not. The money is not in the budget. Our supply budgets have been swept and we’ve been told that pretty much what we’ve got in our workrooms this year is all that we’re getting,” Cameron said.
Cameron says the increase in student to teacher ratios will also have a dramatic impact on the quality of education for Santa Clarita families, many who specifically moved to the valley for the good schools.
“The 30-to-1 ratio makes teaching pretty difficult. We do have that in upper grades right now, but upper grade students are more independent. They do not require as much individual attention. Most of them are already reading. They are more in the reading-to-learn stage than the learning-to-read,” said Cameron.
The biggest impact will be seen in the Kindergarten through 3rd grade classrooms, whose current 20-to-1 ratio, Cameron says, is already higher than almost every other state in the union.
“Years ago class size reduction of 30-to-1 might have been more of an ordinary thing. But now we have more students in our district, due to shifting demographics who are learning English, they require both legally and ethically I think more of our time to bring them up to speed,” Cameron said.
But it’s not just English Language Learners who need more attention now.
“We have students who have learning disabilities that are now mainstreamed into our classrooms. We have a large influx of children with autism who are now in our classrooms and all of those things require more individual time, at a time when we are being given less teacher time to deal with them,” said Cameron.
Next Tuesday the Saugus Union School District School Board will announce the results of the furlough voting and also whether not official RIF notices will be mailed.
Cameron and other teachers will be in attendance “to encourage” the board to be on the lookout for any cuts they could make that doesn’t include laying off classroom teachers.
Cameron wants parents to make their opinions heard as well.
“I would also encourage parents to write their legislatures, because this is a bigger problem than our board can solve locally. We need more equity in funding. Our district is one of the lowest funded in our state due to our complex funding formulas. We need to figure out some ways to level out the funding so that we’re not on this budget roller coaster every single year,” said Cameron.