Pink Slips, Layoffs and RIFs Are Not the Same Thing

The California Teachers Association is thrilled that only 1,300 school employees received final layoff notices this year, and credited the passage of Proposition 30, the tax increase package CTA championed last November.

That’s fine, but it tends to lead to the interchangeable use of terms that aren’t synonymous. In California, school districts are required to issue preliminary layoff notices by March 15. Traditionally the phrase “pink slips” has been used to describe these notices. It’s a rare occurrence when districts know how much money they will receive from the state by that deadline, so they issue far more pink slips than necessary, in order to err on the side of caution.

Comes May 15, the deadline for “final” layoff notices, and suddenly most of those with pink slips will be returning. This year it’s 57 percent. Last year it was 60 percent.

But the new school year doesn’t start in May, and over the summer months and even into September more of those laid-off employees are recalled. The California Legislative Analyst looked strictly at teachers, and found that last year 96 percent of laid-off teachers were rehired. He also noted that not all districts were affected equally during the recession. At the worst of it, 36 percent of districts had no layoffs at all. Last year, 65 percent of districts had no layoffs.

Another confusing factor is that CTA accumulates all non-renewal notices into its pink slip and layoff notice figures, including those issued to probationary teachers. Since it will never happen that every probationary teacher receives tenure, there is a base level of pink slips that will never be entirely eliminated.

EdSource surveyed the state’s 30 largest districts about their staffing in 2010-11, which was the worst year for public school teachers. Of the 96,226 teachers employed in March, 94,013 were still employed in October (97.7%).

So how can this be squared with the reductions-in-force we know have occurred in California? Easy. Layoffs are not the major contributor, but attrition and retirements.

At its peak in 2008-09, California had 610,494 teachers and education support employees. Last year that number was down to 572,591 – a reduction of 6.2 percent. Enrollment dropped by almost 1 percent during that same period, but it is true that the remaining employees had more kids per person to deal with.

That’s a lot of numbers to say a simple thing: Just because we have fewer employees doesn’t mean a lot of people lost their jobs.