Mayor Villaraigosa today thanked the Los Angeles Unified School District Board of Education for their approval of a settlement agreement in Reed v. State of California, a class action suit that claimed the plaintiffs’ constitutional rights to a quality education was being violated by the disproportionate impact of teacher layoff at their schools. The agreement marks a departure from the LAUSD’s long-standing “last hired, first fired” policy that determines layoffs solely by seniority.
“Fundamentally, this lawsuit was about protecting some of our most vulnerable students in some of the City’s most challenging schools,” Mayor Villaraigosa said. “But this agreement is about protecting all our students in every one of our schools. Our children have long deserved better and this decision is a victory for students throughout LA Unified. These kind of sweeping reforms are exactly what I had in mind when I created the Partnership for Los Angeles Schools, and I am thrilled to see the Partnership has once again proved itself a catalyst for District-wide change.”
The approved settlement targets schools for protection from layoffs and defines those targeted schools as the 25 ranked in the bottom 30 percent by Academic Performance Index (API) score, high teacher turnover rates, and other determining criteria. It also allows for up to 20 new schools to be protected as target schools. Although it allows the LAUSD discretion in protecting the schools most vulnerable to high turnover rates and classroom instability, this agreement protects schools throughout the LAUSD by ensuring that no school is impacted by layoffs at a rate greater than the District average.
The agreement also includes a number of other reform-minded components directed at the targeted schools, with the aim of retaining teachers in schools that traditionally have high teacher turnover to improve the overall growth and success on those campuses. The settlement implements an intervention program for targeted schools that includes teacher effectiveness provisions, a collaborative effort to fill teacher vacancies as quickly as possible (including those that occur mid-year), retention incentives — including financial bonuses — for teachers who remain at a targeted school beyond a certain number of years, plus further incentives if that school experiences growth as measured by the school’s value-added score. Similar incentives are structured for principal retention.
“The settlement assures that the State and District will no longer balance the budget on the backpacks of innocent children already attending the hardest to staff schools in Los Angeles,” said Mark Rosenbaum, Chief Counsel of the ACLU of Southern California. “It represents a model step toward school reform by targeting underperforming schools for protection from any budget-based layoffs at all in part based upon how well schools are educating children. Instead of having to wait for Superman, the settlement guarantees that the LAUSD will be committed to building and sustaining superschools staffed with the superteachers and superprincipals our most neglected children have long deserved.”
At the urging of Mayor Villaraigosa and his Partnership for Los Angeles School, the ACLU and Public Counsel filed a lawsuit (Reed v. Smith) on behalf of Gompers, Liechty, and Markham Middle Schools arguing that the children’s constitutional right to a quality education was being violated due to the disproportionate impact of teacher layoffs at those schools.
“LAUSD today restored civil rights to all its students,” said Catherine Lhamon, Director of Impact Litigation at Public Counsel Law Center. “This historic settlement ends the bad old days, when only some students bore the brunt of the budget crisis, and instead recommits Los Angeles to offer educational opportunity on an equal basis.”
Due to their relatively young teaching staffs, these three campuses were particularly hard-hit by teacher layoffs, in some cases losing up to two-thirds of their teachers. The policy of determining layoffs solely based on seniority resulted in teachers teaching subjects in which they had no training, high teacher turnover rates, and a reduction in the quality of instruction due to a lack of stability in the classroom.
"Morrison & Foerster is extremely pleased with today's vote,” added Sean Gates, Partner at Morrison & Foerster, LLP, who provided legal counsel pro bono for this case. “This important agreement goes a long way towards ensuring that all Los Angeles public school students receive equal educational opportunity. Today's vote proves that even in times of extreme economic stress, we can work together, develop creative solutions, and protect the rights of those most vulnerable."
The Mayor and the Partnership for Los Angeles Schools stood in full support of the plaintiff’s arguments and actively sought the changes requested by the plaintiffs in the case. The Partnership welcomed its role as a defendant in order to have a seat at the table to ensure reforms were implemented to protect students from this and other such inequitable policies.
Markham and Gompers Middle Schools are operated by the Partnership for Los Angeles Schools by agreement with the LAUSD. John Liechty Middle School is part of the LAUSD.