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Settlement voided; teacher layoff process to go to trial

October 24, 2012 |  8:11 pm

The state Supreme Court has declined to reinstate a settlement that allowed local officials to shield schools from having disproportionate numbers of teachers laid off during a budget crisis.  The voided settlement had allowed exceptions to rules stating that less-experienced teachers must be let go first.

The apparent result is that seniority will, once again, be the basis for layoffs in the Los Angeles Unified School District pending further litigation. In the meantime, district officials and allied attorneys said they are exploring options to keep the intent of the settlement in force.

With the settlement officially vacated, the original litigation is now on track to go to trial. New settlement negotiations also are possible.

“I am disappointed that the Supreme Court declined to hear the case, but I’m encouraged that we will be able to make our case quite clearly in the trial court,” said L.A. schools Supt. John Deasy.

The state’s highest court announced Tuesday that it would let stand a decision by California's 2nd District Court of Appeal. That lower body voided the settlement made between the nation’s second-largest school system and lawyers representing students at three middle schools, Samuel Gompers, Edwin Markham and John H. Liechty.

During budget shortfalls, large numbers of teachers at these schools were laid off because they had fewer years of seniority than teachers at other campuses. The schools serve some of the district’s lowest-performing students, but had been improving through the efforts of their relatively inexperienced faculties, officials said.

Liechty, near downtown Los Angeles, lost more than half its staff to layoffs over a two-year period — even as test results suggested students were making strides.

“Budget-driven teacher layoffs disproportionately harm children at underperforming and hard-to-staff schools,” said Mark Rosenbaum, chief counsel of the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, which helped represent the students in the litigation.

The teachers union did not assent to the settlement, however, and challenged it on appeal. United Teachers Los Angeles argued that it was illegal to reach such a deal without the agreement of teachers, because it directly affected their rights. The Court of Appeal agreed.

“The voice of teachers, through their union, was silenced in the writing of the settlement,” said union President Warren Fletcher, in a statement. “As a result, what could have been an important discussion on how to help our schools of greatest need was preempted.”
The union has asserted that there are other methods for protecting students at some schools from disproportionate harm.

-- Howard Blume