National Opinions

San Jose Mercury News: Layoffs made Friday the 13th really bad

Friday the 13th was unlucky not only for the 1,000 teachers from Silicon Valley and 26,000 statewide who got pink slips last week. The layoff notices made it a bad day for all Californians.

They will lead to larger classes, dropped programs and fewer professionals to help children at a time when the state must invest more, not less, in K-12 schools.

Teachers were right to organize statewide protests Friday to draw attention to the long-term plight of schools. But in this extraordinarily harsh recession, there is more they could be doing to preserve their colleagues' jobs.

They could take furloughs on professional development days and renegotiate health benefits. Teachers in some districts are doing this. And for at least a year, every teachers union should agree to forgo automatic raises given for additional college credits and longevity. Because these raises are built into their contracts, teachers take them for granted. But they add about 1.5 percent a year to district costs. That's $1.5 million on a $100 million budget, the equivalent of about a dozen and a half teaching jobs -- not enough to reinstate all jobs, but it would be a start, and represent a shared sacrifice.

Pay raises for degrees and longevity especially help younger, lower-paid teachers. But without doing something, the newest teachers -- in their first and second years, when they lack tenure -- will bear the brunt of the layoffs anyway.

California teachers on average are among the highest paid in the nation, and the best should be, especially in expensive regions like Silicon Valley. But overall per student spending, adjusted for the cost of living, is 47th in the nation. And by other measures -- numbers of counselors, administrators, teachers and librarians per capita -- California is dead last, or nearly so. Actual dollar cuts this year and next will widen the gap between California and the rest of the nation.

School spending is out of sync with California's high expectations.

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