A half-dozen organizations representing school district officials have called on Gov. Gavin Newsom and legislative leaders not to agree to a 2020-21 state budget that would ban all employee layoffs in schools for a year. The layoff ban is part of possible deal that would be made in exchange for eliminating the budget cuts Newsom had proposed.

The officials released a two-page letter late Thursday (June 18) in a last-minute attempt to avert what they assume is an imminent budget deal. The Department of Finance, which speaks on behalf of the governor on budget issues, declined to comment other than to say that discussions toward a budget agreement are continuing.

The letter implies that legislative leaders had convinced Newsom to accept their plan to make late payments to school districts in lieu of the 8 percent cut — $6.4 billion — that Newsom proposed last month. The cuts would be rescinded if the federal government provided enough stimulus aid to help close the state’s $54 billion revenue shortfall.

The school groups favor the Legislature’s proposal. It’s the no-layoffs trade-off they oppose. They implied it was pushed by organized labor and would jeopardize school districts’ ability to manage their finances under the stress of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Do not constrain the ability for school districts to work with our local bargaining units and properly budget and manage personnel during this time of enormous transformation,” they said in their letter.

The school groups

Signing the letter were the California School Boards Association, Association of California School Administrators, California Association of California School Business Officials, Small School Districts’ Association, California Association of Suburban School Districts, and California County Superintendents Educational Services Association.

Unions representing school employees have been urging legislators to impose a moratorium on layoffs of teachers and classified workers, which include bus drivers, kitchen staff, secretaries and classroom aides. They cited two statutes that the Legislature could suspend to impose a one-year ban on layoffs of school employees.

Unions have argued that school districts will need all hands on deck to meet the extraordinary demands of reopening schools during a pandemic. Claudia Briggs, spokeswoman for the California Teachers Association, restated that view while not commenting on the presumed budget deal, in a statement on Friday (June 19).

‘More employees are needed … not less’

“We haven’t seen the budget in print but I can assure you that educators and classified workers have been advocating against layoffs of teachers, custodians, cafeteria workers, school nurses and counselors because our students need them when we are planning to reopen safely,” she said. “It would be irresponsible and put our students, families and employees at risk. More employees are needed … not less.”

In principle, the school management organizations agree with that view. As part of a joint lobbying effort called the Education Coalition, they joined with CTA and other unions in a June 3 letter that praised the Legislature’s alternate budget proposal that “prevents immediate educator layoffs.”

“Our schools must have the resources they need to reopen safely,” the letter said. “During this pandemic that means proper supplies and equipment to ensure student and educator safety; smaller, not larger, class sizes that allow for proper social, physical distancing; additional educators like counselors, nurses and classified staff.”

But they’re arguing now that a ban on employee layoffs across the board would ignore individual districts’ circumstances and contradict the state’s policy of local control.

Financial woes

Financial pressures differ among districts, and even before the pandemic, some districts faced the prospect of laying off some employees to balance next year’s budget, the letter said. Since salaries and benefits make up between 80 percent and 90 percent of a district’s spending, a layoff ban would be a severe constraint, they wrote.

“It is not a good precedent to micromanage on how you deal with personnel,” said Edgar Zazueta, senior director of policy and governmental relations for the Association of California School Administrators. “It’s a huge overreach by the state to say we know what is going on everywhere in the state.”

Story originally published by EdSource.

John Fensterwald