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March 11, 2013
Editorial: Twin Rivers must face fiscal realities, but state should fix its pink-slip timeline

(March 11 -- By the Editorial Board)

The Twin Rivers Unified school board needs grownups to step forward and act responsibly at tonight's special board meeting.

No school board likes March 15. That is the deadline for issuing preliminary pink slips to teachers. Boards act because they need to preserve flexibility before the Legislature finalizes a state budget in June.

The Twin Rivers board evaded that responsibility at last Tuesday's meeting - rejecting a staff recommendation to issue pink slips to 74 teachers and counselors, and 23 support staff. The district has more than 1,500 teachers for 31,600 students.

Board President Cortez Quinn was unable even to get a second for a motion to issue pink slips. That is outrageous. The alternative is for the board to tap one-time money to pay for ongoing costs - a terrible way to do budgeting.

With major budget uncertainty, school boards must prepare conservatively.

For one, Gov. Jerry Brown is proposing a major overhaul of the state's broken education funding formula - and the outcome in the Legislature remains uncertain.

For another, the federal "sequester" is a reality and will significantly affect funding for school districts that serve disadvantaged children. Twin Rivers Unified has the largest population of disadvantaged students in our region.

And then there are long-term staffing issues. A Feb. 7 report of the independent Fiscal Crisis and Management Assistance Team concluded that Twin Rivers Unified is overstaffed in everything but custodians. That should not be ignored.

Under state law, districts must notify teachers by March 15 and issue final layoff notices by May 15. Joyce Childs of the Twin Rivers Unified teachers union urged the board simply to ignore budgetary prudence and flexibility: "We got you elected so you would stop doing this," she said at the meeting.

Instead of pushing the board to act irresponsibly, the Twin Rivers union should be working on the statewide teachers union, the California Teachers Association, which opposed an attempt to change the deadlines in 2009 - ostensibly because earlier deadlines give teachers more time to look for a job.

The Legislative Analyst's Office has recommended changing the layoff timeline to match the state budget process - preliminary pink slips in June and final notices in August. The LAO notes that with the current timeline, roughly 75 percent of teachers who get preliminary pink slips in March are called back to work, a morale issue and waste of everybody's time.

With the CTA balking, no Democrat has taken up this cause, leaving it to Senate Republican leader Bob Huff, R-Diamond Bar, to act. He introduced Senate Bill 559 that would enact the LAO's recommendation. As Huff has said, the current system is cruel, creating unnecessary anxiety and instability for teachers and students.

The Twin Rivers school board should do the preliminary layoff notices tonight and then sign a joint letter with the Twin Rivers union supporting Senate Bill 559. It is time to change the deadlines.

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