By Kevin Yamamura and Diana Lambert
kyamamura@sacbee.com
Published: Thursday, Jun. 30, 2011 – 12:00 am | Page 1A

Teachers win layoff protection while school finance officials see their powers curtailed in the state budget package Gov. Jerry Brown is expected to sign today.

The last-minute school legislation, Assembly Bill 114, emerged publicly less than an hour before lawmakers approved it in a late-evening Tuesday session. It reflects the negotiating muscle of teachers as Democratic lawmakers crafted their majority-vote budget with a governor of their own party.

“This provides stability for students and teachers,” said Dean E. Vogel, the new president of the California Teachers Association. He said the bill stems the tide of an estimated 30,000 job losses that teachers have faced since the recession began.

Lawmakers blocked K-12 districts from laying off teachers for the upcoming fiscal year. Teachers also won provisions requiring districts to ignore – for now – the prospect of a $1.75 billion “trigger” cut that could hit K-12 districts if optimistic revenue projections fall short.

Instead, the state is requiring districts to assume they will receive the same amount of money as this past fiscal year “and maintain staffing and program levels commensurate with this funding level,” according to an Assembly analysis.

Brown’s Department of Finance said the latter provision could even cause some districts to rescind pink slips handed out earlier this year. CTA estimates that 20,850 of its members received layoff notices earlier this year, while districts have pulled back 8,524 of those.

Elk Grove Education Association President Maggie Ellis said Wednesday she was still unclear on portions of the bill, but was happy it retains teachers’ jobs.

“We support anything that will bring stability to our kids, and not laying off teachers is a key part of that and not increasing class sizes is a key part of that,” Ellis said.

School officials said they aren’t eager to implement layoffs, but they contend the measure will make it difficult to manage their finances and negotiate with teachers.

“Districts will be under tremendous pressure to bring people back from layoffs and, if there is a midyear cut, there is no way to lay people off,” said David Gordon, Sacramento County superintendent of schools. “How then do you handle a midyear cut?”

Others said it was the first time they could recall the state mandating that districts assume a certain level of funds, a function each district usually exercises.

“Obviously, legislators went out of their way to protect teachers from layoffs, notwithstanding the level of funding they’re providing for schools,” said Rick Pratt, assistant executive director with the California School Boards Association.

Because the budget sent to Brown relies on an optimistic revenue projections, it contains “trigger” cuts that would take effect if tax dollars fall short. One of the most significant is a reduction in the school year by an additional seven days.

However, AB 114 reiterates that districts must negotiate any such cut with teachers and staff. With layoffs off the table, teachers may have more leverage in those discussions to block school-year reductions.

The California Teachers Association has long wielded tremendous clout in state budget negotiations. It is a multimillion-dollar player in state political campaigns – and is widely expected to help fund Democratic efforts to raise taxes on the November 2012 ballot.

Another provision in the bill would make the state liable for roughly $2.1 billion in retroactive school funding if voters reject or never get the chance to vote on such a measure.

Vogel said teachers simply have become “very, very discouraged” after rounds of layoffs. “They don’t think too much about, ‘Is this going to give us a better opportunity at the bargaining table?’ ” he said.

School finance officials were frustrated at another part of the bill that suspends three-year oversight of district budgets by counties.

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