A potentially groundbreaking settlement that could limit teachers' seniority protections would also require instructors at a small number of schools to be judged and rewarded based on their ability to boost the campus' academic performance, according to documents released Thursday.
The legal agreement, approved by the city school board earlier this week during a closed-door meeting, was the result of negotiations between the Los Angeles Unified School District and the American Civil Liberties Union and other groups. The groups had sued the district earlier this year, claiming that the civil rights of students were being violated at three of the city's worst-performing middle schools because they did not have access to quality instructors. Those campuses were primarily staffed by younger teachers who were laid off based on their lack of seniority during a budget crisis.
Under the pact, layoffs would be spread evenly throughout the district, and up to 45 schools could be spared if they have high teacher turnover but show "growth over time" on academic measures.
The settlement did not define "growth over time." Lawyers involved in the settlement talks said they intentionally left the incentive and evaluation clauses undefined so those controversial items could be negotiated with United Teachers Los Angeles.
Teachers and administrators at the 45 schools would receive extra incentives if they stay at the campuses and contribute to the schools' academic progress, although the terms of those benefits were not spelled out.
Other school districts offer programs that pay extra to teachers who work at struggling schools in an attempt to attract effective instructors or encourage them to remain on those campuses.
The union said it did not participate in settlement talks even though it was a defendant in the suit. And lawyers and others encouraged UTLA leaders to become involved.
"There's a lot of room to work with the union," said Catherine Lhamon of Public Counsel, one of the groups that filed the suit. "It's always been our hope that UTLA would be full partners in this."
But district and city leaders said they did not need union approval to make changes.
"With or without them, we're moving ahead," Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said at a Thursday morning news conference.
Villaraigosa's Partnership for Los Angeles Schools operates Samuel Gompers and Edwin Markham middle schools, which were named in the suit; the district's John H. Liechty Middle School also was named.
Some district officials also expressed frustration with the union.
"Our labor partners, UTLA in particular, have not agreed to the many changes and reforms we've put forth for… our students," board member Yolie Flores said.
UTLA President A.J. Duffy said that any new evaluation or incentive programs would have to be negotiated. And he has indicated that the union will weigh court action to block the new policies from taking effect.
"This desire to get around an established process… is a very disturbing trend created by this board majority," he said.
Villaraigosa, meanwhile, said that the settlement is just one step toward reforming the school district and promised to keep pushing for change.
"This isn't just about the dance of the lemons," he said, referring to an alleged practice of rotating ineffective teachers among campuses. "It's about cutting down the trees that have grown those lemons."