Monday, July 19, 2010


          Most California teachers are probably aware of SB 955 (Huff) and know that their unions are opposing its passage in the legislature. What they may not know is how they can respond if SB 955 passes and the Governor signs it into law.

          Current law requires any budgetary layoffs or other reductions in force (“RIFs”) to be carried out in reverse seniority order. SB 955, among other things, would change current law to allow for other factors, such as performance reviews and student performance on standardized tests, to be considered in making layoff decisions. Such a move has a superficial appeal to the public, as shown by the apparent approval of SB 955 by the Los Angeles Times and other publications.
          A layoff system based entirely on seniority has its obvious weaknesses. But whatever those failings may be, seniority at least allows for a uniform, predictable, objective, non-discriminatory RIF process. A system founded on performance evaluations, regardless of how well-intentioned its supporters may be, introduces a collection of subjective considerations that often lead to biased and sometimes unlawfully discriminatory treatment that further stifles imagination and creativity in the educational process.

          Performance reviews are often out of date. Even when current, countless studies show them to be inaccurate at best, or even flagrantly biased. Reviewers tasked with preparing these evaluations rarely have the knowledge, skills or training to write objectively verifiable performance reviews. More than any other single quality, the review describes the personal and professional relationship that exists between the reviewer and the person being reviewed, as opposed to any consistent measure of the performance abilities or future potential of the reviewee. At worst, performance reviews can be used by some to mask unlawful discrimination based on race, age and other forbidden characteristics.

          RIFs founded on student performance on standardized tests don’t fare much better. Standardized tests evaluate rote memorization of facts, rather than the imagination and creative problem-solving ability that today’s world demands. Even if the tests measured useful abilities, student performance often depends on conditions outside of the teacher’s control, such as the wealth of student families, the extent to which student families choose to interact with the educational process, the quality of school and district administration, and other matters.

          Whether SB 955 is wise policy or not, the bill or similar legislation may pass and be signed into law. If that happens, and if the state’s budgetary difficulties continue, California teachers must be prepared. Can License Advocates Law Group help? We think so. Layoffs and other RIFs, whether under SB 955 or current law, demand that certain procedural rules be followed. A qualified lawyer can see that this happens. SB 955 sets up the potential for factors other than seniority to be used in the layoff process. Each district will have to set up its own layoff process consistent with the statewide legislation. Some districts will do that better than others. If the process that the laid-off teacher’s district uses is not valid under state law or if the facts show that the district’s policy is being applied incorrectly, a lawyer can explain this to an objective fact-finder.

          And if the layoff appears based on unlawful discrimination, such as on race or age, the layoff administrative process is an ideal vehicle for obtaining the evidence necessary to support a lawsuit challenging discrimination targeting the individual teacher or a group of teachers. Discrimination claims have strict rules on the time in which claims have to be made to federal and state discrimination agencies to preserve the legal rights of the claimant to sue in court. Early consultation with a lawyer will ensure that those time requirements are satisfied.

          Think about SB 955. Consult with your union or other teacher association. If the need arises, obtain timely legal representation.

           For more information about your rights, see the "Special Notice to California Teachers" at

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.