San Jose Unified School District approves layoffs in 37 positions

    The San Jose Unified School District will lay off employees in 37 classified positions — ranging from administrative aides to secretaries and student services techs — a reduction in force administrators say will fund raises to existing employees.

    The school board last week unanimously approved a resolution to eliminate the positions, a decision board leaders called heart-wrenching. It’s unclear how many individual school employees will be laid off, said Board President Kimberly Meek. The final number will be determined in June.

    “Some people will decide to retire, some people will decide to take different jobs anyway,” Meek said in an interview Tuesday. “What the staff typically do is they try to reduce roles by natural attrition. We won’t know the number (of layoffs) until June.”

    Meek said the decision to eliminate the positions didn’t come from the board of education trustees. The board simply ratified a collective bargaining agreement between the California School Employees Association and the district’s negotiating team. After a lengthy negotiating process, the two sides agreed to 3 percent raises for all CSEA union employees.

    But the agreement called for laying off classified employees for “lack of work and/or a lack of funds.”

    Deputy Superintendent Stephen McMahon said during the meeting Thursday that every 10 SJUSD employees equal about a million dollars. The more employees the school district has, McMahon explained, the less compensation per employee.

    “Five years ago the consensus was we need more people,” he said. “Now the consensus is we need more pay. We’re consciously watching the number of employees we have so we can divide the (compensation) pot so it can go to the employees in the best way possible.”

    McMahon said the school district works hard to staff accurately based on student counts, and some of the eliminated positions had overlapping duties. Additionally, declining enrollment and attrition lead to a reduction of about 30 to 35 teaching positions per year, he said.

    “We need to make change because the world around us has changed and we need to address the employees’ desire to make more per hour,” he said.

    Board Vice President Teresa Castellanos said the district went from almost 34,000 students to a little over 29,000 in the last three years.

    “We did some research, and it happened because most people are moving out of the area,” Castellanos said. “It’s the housing crisis. People are being forced to move out. Teachers are being forced to leave because we don’t pay enough. We don’t invest more in education.”

    But Sharon Calhoun, CSEA president for SJUSD, said during the meeting the layoffs are a result of “unprecedented” hostility from school administrators toward her union and its employees. She called the decision to eliminate nearly 40 job classifications — which provide essential services to students — “drastic and unlawful.”

    Calhoun said as many as 150 classified employees could be affected. She also said school administrators did not properly bargain over the decision to eliminate the positions.

    “The district is violating its duty to bargain under educational employment relations act,” Calhoun said. “You are obligated to negotiate with CSEA over this resolution.”

    Meek said the collective bargaining agreement — which outlined both the employee raises and layoffs — was signed by two CSEA members.

    “I have every faith that the intention and the spirit of collective bargaining was in place,” Meek said. “There just wasn’t enough funding to give them a raise without the reduction in force.”

    Meek added that school officials will do everything they can to minimize impacts from the layoffs to student services.

    As a former educator, newly-elected trustee José Magaña said the decision “wasn’t easy at all” but the board members want what’s best for families. ‏

    “I’m a former teacher. I know how important it is to make sure we have (support staff) like that,” Magaña said. “Ultimately it was a deal that was decided upon by the leadership of the union and the negotiation staff.”

    The SJUSD employees impacted by the layoffs will be notified in the next 60 days, according to district documents.

    Reporter Kyle Martin contributed to this report.

    Contact Ramona Giwargis at [email protected] or follow @RamonaGiwargis on Twitter.

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