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Layoffs for next year up for vote by West Contra Costa Unified school board

Credit: Allison Shelley for American Education

West Contra Costa Unified school workers say they are puzzled by the district’s proposal for layoffs next year and plan to protest at Wednesday’s school board meeting when it goes up for a vote.

The proposals to lay off elementary playground supervisors and other school workers and eliminate and reduce certain school services at the end of this school year have not been finalized yet, said district spokeswoman Liz Sanders. The number of employees who potentially would be laid off and other specifics of the proposal won’t be determined until Tuesday.

“We are working with staff to minimize any potential reductions in force,” Sanders said. “We recognize all that our Teamsters 856 members bring to the work of teaching and learning.”

Teamsters 856, the union that represents education workers other than credentialed teachers such as school outreach workers, instructional aides and food service workers, was notified of the proposal on Monday, representative Veronica Diaz told EdSource. Teamsters 856 was “taken by surprise,” she said, since the United Teachers of Richmond teachers union had just accepted smaller-than-demanded raises as part of contract negotiations after being told the settlement was “the best way to avoid layoffs.”

“I really wish they would have rolled up their sleeves and done this work prior (to the settlement),” Diaz said, referring to the district.

The district and United Teachers of Richmond settled months of negotiations on a contract that gives unions a 7% raise this year and 7.5% next year.

Through “me too” contract language, all the district’s other labor unions will receive the same percentage raise.

Before the settlement was reached, the Contra Costa County Office of Education issued a warning to the district that the district could not afford the raises over the next three school years without budget cuts and adjustments. West Contra Costa Unified’s school board, on March 1, approved a “fiscal solvency plan” that called for nearly $20 million in cuts to the 2024-25 school year.

That plan didn’t call for layoffs next school year in order to remain fiscally solvent. The proposal being considered Wednesday, however, is an effort to align staffing with enrollment decline in recent years, Sanders said.

“There are areas of the district that are currently overstaffed by a level that normal attrition will be unlikely to meet,” Sanders said.

Diaz said it “seems contradictory” that the district sees itself as overstaffed while many workers are feeling “fed up” with increased workloads due to the current staffing levels.

“Part of the confusion is that we can’t find people to keep up with the workload,” Diaz said.

The date of the upcoming school board meeting, March 15, is the last date under state education law in which a district’s school board can adopt a resolution reducing staff for the following year. The district must also give affected employees a formal announcement by Wednesday that they may be laid off before the next school year.

Districts often end up later rescinding many of these so-called “March 15 notices.” That’s because the proposed budget cuts are based on funding estimates made before the Legislature passes the state budget in June and before factoring in resignations and retirements that may occur during the school year.

But for many school workers who get a March 15 notice, the risk of possibly not having a job in the fall creates stress and uncertainty, prompting them to look elsewhere.

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