Opinion: It's a crime the way teachers are laid off

When I first set out to write this article, I was on a crusade to find out how the teacher layoff system worked, then investigate how to help enthusiastic young teachers keep their jobs and do away with bad teachers who, like fish after three days, stink.

But after digging a little more thoroughly into the subject and asking around, it became apparent that there is a bigger issue at hand.

Teachers in districts across the state are being laid off in a systematic approach, based on seniority. It is independent of a "weight-by-merit" evaluation, which is considered a sticky issue by administrators because of its potential subjectivity and other case-by-case issues.

"Yes, it is tough having to lay off some of the young and enthusiastic teachers by pure seniority, but it is policy, and it is a sad fact you must become OK with, because if you don't, it will consume you emotionally," said Johansen Principal Thor Harrison.

Because the districts rely on the state for funds, administrators feel their hands are tied when the state announces deeper cuts.

"The worst of it is that most of these teachers wouldn't need to get cut if California had its economic priorities straightened out," Harrison said.

According to the Legislative Analyst's Office, California spends about $47,000 per year on each inmate in the state prison system, and according to the California Department of Education, the state spends about $8,700 per year on each student.

"The ironic thing is that if all the divisiveness over who was being laid off turned into a unified protest to state legislators in Sacramento about why teachers were being laid off, we wouldn't have all this arguing over which teachers to lay off in the first place," Harrison said.

And seeing that Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has proposed cutting an additional

$1.9 billion in K-12 education funding for the 2010-11 school year, he has a very valid point.

If we spent half as much on convicted criminals and turned that into money toward education, those promising young teachers wouldn't have that dreaded letter in their box to begin with.

"Things won't change in our state until we stand up and fight, and fight together," Harrison says. "Teachers, students, administrators, parents and Joe Taxpayer all need to turn their attention toward Sacramento to make lasting change and the necessary investments in our state's education system to prevent these things from happening at the root of the problem."

Brian Lewis is a junior at Johansen High School and a member of The Bee's Teens in the Newsroom journalism program.