Most pink-slipped teachers have a box already set aside that they are quietly filling in preparation of the last day of school.
At home, they worry about whether they’ll have health coverage come summer and whether they should be scouring the classified ads.
Like districts up and down the state, hundreds of Lodi Unified School District certificated employees received preliminary layoff notices March 15, and final notices went out last week.
Unlike most employees in the private sector who lose their jobs right away when laid off, district employees did not know for sure until last weekend — or later.
In the last three years, more than 500 pink slips have gone out in Lodi Unified. Though many employees have gotten their jobs back through attrition, the legal deadlines make it hard for teachers to make plans for next school year.
“I’m not going to lie, it’s frustrating to feel so unsettled. But waiting it out is simply the only option,” English teacher Renee Campbell said. “I’m finishing my fifth year teaching. And yet, I will be the ‘new teacher’ at whatever site I may be called back to, if I’m called back at all.”
Her name sits on the district’s master seniority list alongside 19 others with the same hire date: July 21, 2008.
It is from this list of dozens of names that administrators will base decisions on who to call back if a permanent position becomes available or funding is restored. In the meantime, some will wait while others have been released to seek employment elsewhere, all the while working to finish up the school year.
Budget reductions have forced districts up and down the state to eliminate programs and personnel.
Those efforts culminated with a week-long sit-in at the state Capitol and local rallies to call attention to ongoing cuts. After school Friday, a chartered bus took district staff to Sacramento to participate in the demonstration. On some Lodi Unified campuses last Wednesday, staff placed empty chairs in front of the school to signify the number of positions cut next school year.
And on Monday, they were anxious to see if Gov. Jerry Brown’s revised budget will restore education funding and possibly shed some light on the ultimate outcome — whether their layoff notices will be rescinded.
Campbell, who lives in Lodi, refers to the process of receiving pink slips year after year as living in limbo for she and her husband who is also a Lodi Unified teacher.
She was hired back as an English teacher at Bear Creek High School just days before the current school year started. She had received a pink slip the previous two springs, but was reassigned both years back to Lodi High.
“I love my students and have had a great year teaching, but never unpacked my files and made little effort to really become a part of the school,” Campbell says of the school year quickly coming to a close. “I think it was part self-preservation. I just didn’t want to get too attached when I foresaw this coming. I was heartbroken leaving my community at Lodi High and didn’t want to go through that again.”
Her husband, fellow teacher Brian Campbell, is at Tokay High School and loves it since it’s his alma mater. Due to pink slips, it’s his third school in three years.
They both received final notices last week.
“But, that aside, I am finishing up my best year teaching with students I really like,” Renee Campbell said. “I know with each year and with each new placement I am getting better and I am grateful for that.”
Elementary school teacher Aimee Ramsower said it is heart-wrenching to receive a pink slip over and over again. While hers is only probationary and she expects to have a job in the fall, she does not know where she’ll ultimately end up.
“Reassignment is a catastrophe, as far as I’m concerned. It causes upheaval for the teachers involved, the school site and more importantly the students,” she said.
Teachers with supplemental credentials are being reassigned to areas they are completely unfamiliar with while the positions they currently hold are being posted as available to those who are interested in participating in the transfer process, according to Ramsower.
“We are striving at all school sites to improve test scores and our teams are being dismantled year after year. We need continuity in our schools, and the current practices are not fostering that,” she said. “In my opinion if you’re not being laid off, you should stay right where you are. There is no valid reason in my opinion to shuffle everyone around.”
While disappointed they could be losing their jobs, some teachers have spouses with secure employment that makes receiving a pink slip a bit more palatable.
“While I suppose it would be nice to have a spouse with a job to fall back on, it’s also really nice to have a spouse that fully understands the situation and can offer real support, help,” Campbell said of her situation.
She says she, too, can be empathetic to her husband leaving a position he really enjoys. Brian Campbell works next door to his brother, is active in sports organizations, was asked to teach Advanced Placement psychology next year and was even was thinking of coaching basketball.
“However, he is hesitant to make commitments for fear he won’t be able to follow through because of this situation,” she said.
With the constant pink-slip merry-go-round, the couple has talked about leaving Lodi Unified or the profession altogether.
“It is discouraging to know you’re good at your job, but that it doesn’t make a difference on whether or not you get to keep your job,” Renee Campbell said.
Teachers are not the only employees affected.
School counselors and librarians were also among the certificated employees who received preliminary pink slips March 15. That includes those with a special teaching certification.
The district not only sent notices to those who hold the 177 positions approved by the school board in February, but also those hired since 2004, anyone who remains on last year’s rehire list, and second notices for temporary teachers. The rehire list includes those laid off last school year who have not started work back in the district.
By the numbers
Although state education has already forced them to approve the layoffs, trustees have publicly indicated a strong desire to return as many teachers as possible to the classroom, pending the state’s budget.
That has already happened in the Galt Joint Union Elementary School District. That school board last week previously approved moving forward with final layoff notices for 48 teachers, but three positions have since been restored.
“As the state’s budget conditions unfold ... additional layoff notices would be restored,” Superintendent Karen Schauer said in an email to employees Friday.
In Lodi Unified, this year’s layoffs will likely affect classrooms that are already overcrowded due to last year’s layoffs. Among the positions approved for elimination next school year:
- 18 instructional coaches among all grade levels.
- 14 school counselors.
- 11 high school English teachers.
- 8.5 full-time-equivalent elementary school vice principals.
- Five high school physical education teachers.
- Four high school librarians.
- Four high school assistant principals.
- Three high school social science teachers.
- Two school nurses.
- Both the vice principal and principal of the adult education program.
However, only 159 of the 177 notices approved in February went out last week, according to Michael McKilligan, assistant superintendent of personnel.
Last school year, almost 410 certificated positions were approved to be eliminated in the first step of the layoff process to deal with an anticipated $30 million shortfall.
In 2010, the district opted to use one-time federal stimulus money to save many of the positions, but those resources are unavailable this year.
Lyndon Blodgett, a Lodi High School counselor who also has a private practice as a licensed therapist, said those who received pink slips may be experiencing anxiety disorder with depressed mood.
“That mental health diagnosis really says it all: worry and sadness for several weeks about the unknown. Many will cope, but some will deal with lack of focus and be very distracted,” he said.
He has not personally received a layoff notice, but is close to many who have.
“The ripple effect of what they are going through certainly affects my thoughts, feelings and behaviors,” he said.
Campbell said she and her husband are trying not to get caught up in the politics or rumors about more state funding possibly becoming available.
“But it’s not easy. Every year we get to a point where we would almost rather just know (even if it’s negative) than to wait. It takes self-discipline to stay patient and positive,” she said.
There is always a chance that employees who land at the bottom of the seniority list could be rehired, even after the 2011-12 school year has begun.
Fewer than the 255 notices approved last spring were ultimately sent out when the district struck a deal with the teachers’ union and created an early retirement incentive. The idea behind it was if 100 teachers agreed to leave their positions early, it would make room for pink-slipped teachers to keep theirs.
And, in September, the personnel department called back 90 teachers as a result of concessions made between the union and the district. Among the contract’s stipulations was hiring back 40 previously laid-off teachers.
Ramsower understands the legalities of the notification process.
“Unfortunately, the human factor has been left out of the equation,” she said. “We are people who are being directly affected by decisions made by the powers that be. Yet we are left to hang in the balance with little information provided. The whole situation is unnerving.”
She will have a job somewhere in the district, most likely being moved from her five-year position as a sixth-grader teacher at Live Oak Elementary School to the junior high level.
“I have no idea where that will be since I’m being told that I will have to apply and interview for vacant positions — which makes no sense since I’m not voluntarily making a change, I’m being reassigned,” Ramsower said. “The district needs to involve teachers more in this process and remember that we all have the same goal, and that is to educate the children.”
In the meantime, the Campbells remain hopeful. After all, they met two years ago after receiving their first pink slips.
“I was going to move to Spain to teach, and he was thinking Thailand. For obvious reasons, we both decided to instead stay and wait it out. Our lives together have been in this limbo, and, you know, it still has been great,” Renee Campbell said.
“So, as frustrating as it is, we’ll stay. And hopefully, someday we can feel a bit more secure, make a little more money, and do the whole family and house thing,” she said. “Until then, we will wait it out with as much patience as we can muster. I suppose that’s one thing that teaching teenagers has helped us with: patience.”
Contact reporter Jennifer Bonnett at firstname.lastname@example.org.