A judge has ruled overwhelmingly in the Long Beach Unified School District's favor after a series of public hearings in which the Teachers Association of Long Beach asserted that the school district failed to follow rules regarding which employees to lay off during the ongoing state budget crisis.
The arguments against LBUSD were "unpersuasive" and "lacking in evidence, factual support and legal merit," the judge stated repeatedly in his written findings, which will be considered by the Board of Education as it decides on a final layoff list at its meeting on Monday, July 12. The school board is not bound by the administrative law judge's ruling but will consider it before making a final determination on which teachers and other certificated employees to let go.
In February of 2010, the LBUSD Board of Education reluctantly acted to reduce or eliminate services provided to students by certificated employees. During April and May, public hearings were held in which affected employees were given the opportunity to present testimony and other evidence challenging the action of the school board. The purpose of the hearings was to ensure the veracity of information relied upon in selecting which programs would be protected and which employees should ultimately be laid off.
Throughout the course of the seven days of hearings, attorneys representing TALB contended that the entire layoff should be nullified based on various procedural and legal challenges. The judge, however, sided with the school district on all major areas of contention.
"We are grateful that the judge affirmed the action of the board," said LBUSD Superintendent Christopher J. Steinhauser. "We take no pleasure in this process, which has been complex and difficult for both LBUSD and TALB. This decision should not be read as a rebuke of TALB or our employees in any way. But we appreciate that the judge, during these unprecedented times, acknowledged the lengths to which our staff went in recognizing the rights of our valued employees while protecting programs vital to student success. We will continue to leave no stone unturned in our search for funding to help restore jobs and protect our schools."
The decision of the state-appointed administrative law judge covered several arguments:
Seniority Tie Breakers:
"The evidence established LBUSD's tie-breaker criteria are not arbitrary in nature and are reasonably based on the needs of the school district and its students," the judge ruled. "There was insufficient evidence to establish the assertions of those respondents who sought additional tie-breaker points."
Skipping Criteria, including International Baccalaureate (IB), Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID), and Advanced Placement (AP) Program Certifications:
IB, AVID and AP are college readiness programs that the school district has deemed to be a top priority. The school district decided to exempt teachers with such training from the seniority rules regarding layoffs.
"LBUSD exercised its discretion in developing its skipping criteria. LBUSD acted appropriately and within its purview when it identified AVID, IB, and AP programs as programs that meet the requirements for exempting certain junior employees from layoff, who were trained and/or teaching AVID, IB, and AP programs," the judge ruled.
Teachers with more seniority have the right to "bump" less senior teachers. LBUSD's bumping process was questioned during the hearings by the respondents (TALB and its members).
"There were several reasons why Respondents' bumping arguments were unsuccessful," the judge ruled. "There was insufficient evidence establishing Respondents' credentials and/or experience; there was inadequate evidence establishing the requirements of the teaching position(s) to which Respondents argued they could bump; and the evidence presented was unpersuasive."
Respondents' Overall Arguments:
Respondents argued that LBUSD's assignment and reassignment of employees was inconsistent.
"There was insufficient evidence to establish Respondents' assertions," the judge ruled. "In cases Respondents highlighted, there were adequate, lawful reasons why LBUSD assigned or reassigned those particular Respondents."
Accuracy of Seniority List:
In some limited cases, the judge stated that LBUSD should revise the start date of some teachers' employment if they attended trainings prior to the start of the school year. However, of the more than 1,000 preliminary layoff notices originally sent to employees, only 17 remain in question, under Appendix D of the ruling. These 17 employees either should have received a notice but didn't, or their notices may have been erroneously dismissed, according to the judge. The school district will investigate these individual cases to verify the problem, the causes for which could range from incorrect information being supplied by individual employees, to potential errors by the school district itself. Even with the 17 teachers listed in the ruling, however, the school district's accuracy rate in light of the hearings remains well above 98 percent.