In Teaching, Pink Slips Are A Way Of Life

Teacher Rohya  Prudhomme has gotten a pink slip from the  Los Angeles school district. Despite good reviews, Prudhomme is one of many teachers who regularly  receives layoff notices, making it hard to plan for the future. i i

Teacher Rohya Prudhomme has gotten a pink slip from the Los Angeles school district. Despite good reviews, Prudhomme is one of many teachers who regularly receives layoff notices, making it hard to plan for the future. Larry Abramson/NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Larry Abramson/NPR
Teacher Rohya  Prudhomme has gotten a pink slip from the  Los Angeles school district. Despite good reviews, Prudhomme is one of many teachers who regularly  receives layoff notices, making it hard to plan for the future.

Teacher Rohya Prudhomme has gotten a pink slip from the Los Angeles school district. Despite good reviews, Prudhomme is one of many teachers who regularly receives layoff notices, making it hard to plan for the future.

Larry Abramson/NPR

For many teachers, job uncertainty is one of the biggest downsides of their profession.

Recent estimates from the American Association of School Administrators show that about a quarter-million educators could face layoffs in the coming year as states cut education spending in an effort to balance their budgets. That has left many teachers wondering where their next paycheck will come from.

Two of those teachers facing uncertainty are in Los Angeles, where as many as 1,600 teachers and staff may lose their jobs this summer.

Drama teacher Misty Monroe is an itinerant drama teacher. Every day, she visits a different LA school and brings a little art into kids' lives. Despite eight years with the Los Angeles Unified School District, Monroe is no stranger to the layoff notice.

Many school districts are required to send out layoff notices in the spring even if they think they will rehire workers. The school district originally sent out 5,000 notices to educators this year. Often, teachers are "recalled" and get their jobs back over the summer. That's what happened to Monroe last year, but she says the suspense of having unemployment hanging over her head is unnerving.

"The sad part is that morale dips so drastically once the pink slips go out, because the worry begins about family, mortgage, stuff like that," Monroe says.

Whether the cause is budget cuts or shrinking enrollment, some teachers face this prospect year after year. Despite all the hubbub about union contracts and how tough it is to fire bad teachers, junior teachers have little protection against the layoff ax.

Just ask Rohya Prudhomme, who's been teaching in L.A. for four years. Prudhomme gets the same letter every spring. "For the past three years, I've gotten a pink slip every single year," she says.

Teacher Layoffs Across The U.S.

Around the nation, school districts are planning big teacher layoffs amid huge budget deficits. In most cases, the exact number of layoffs is unclear and appears fluid as cities and teacher unions negotiate the issues.

Among the places where many teachers are facing pink slips:

  • The Broward County School Board in South Florida announced last month it would lay off more than 1,400 teachers.
  • The Allentown School District in Pennsylvania sent lay off notices to 265 teachers earlier this month.
  • The entire teaching force in Providence, R.I., — more than 1,900 people — was dismissed in the spring.
  • The school board in Cleveland voted in April to lay off 580 teachers.
  • New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg threatened to lay off more than 4,000 teachers, and not replace another 1,500.
  • Philadelphia sent layoff notices to more than 3,000 teachers.

At her apartment in downtown L.A., Prodhomme pulls out this year's personal communication from the school district. It's not pink, actually; it's just another form letter from a big office.

"As you may be aware, the Los Angeles Unified School District continues to face a dire financial situation" the letter begins, and goes on to express "sincere regret" that Prudhomme is once again on the list of teachers who may lose their jobs.

Prudhomme teaches English at the Miguel Contreras Learning Complex, and she considers the job a fulfillment of a dream. It's a big urban school, full of mostly low-income students — just the population she wanted to serve.

Nova Mesa, her supervisor, says it's just a bad time. "You can't blame the district, you can't blame — I guess — the school, necessarily. I just feel like education in the state of California is in dire straits," Mesa says.

Many do blame state laws and union contracts that say teachers must be laid off according to seniority. But many teachers say that ending seniority rights is not the answer. That would just make them feel more insecure.

Prudhomme could search for jobs in other districts. But all are facing budget pressures, and she'd have to give up what little seniority she has. Charter schools are another option she's considering. But she's stuck on her school and on the kids, and she doesn't want to leave. So until school ends later this month, "I teach as though I don't have a pink slip. I teach as though I'll be teaching forever."

Correction June 15, 2011

An earlier version of the sidebar in this story incorrectly said that Cleveland schools CEO Eugene Sanders would lay off more than 500 teachers. Sanders, who recommended layoffs last year, is no longer the CEO.

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