The Sacramento city teachers union filed a lawsuit against the Sacramento City Unified School District on Tuesday, claiming the district board illegally laid off childcare program employees.
The teachers union said the Early Childhood Development teachers were illegally laid off after the district misidentified them as classified employees, failed to lay them off based on seniority and chose to turn away funds for the program, according to a letter from the union’s legal counsel. The teachers union stated the employees should be classified as certificated employees under Ed Code 8366.
The district began transitioning more than half its preschool children to other childcare programs in March.
This is the second lawsuit the teachers union filed in Sacramento Superior Court against the financially-troubled district for laying off teachers. In March, the union sued the district for making teacher layoff decisions behind closed doors. The district issued more than 100 layoff notices — including 77 teachers — in an effort to identify a $35 million budget gap and avoid a state takeover.
“The district does not comment on pending litigation,” read a statement from Sacramento City Unified. “We will analyze the claims and respond through the legal process. Our students need all partners working together collaboratively in light of our ongoing budget challenges. We will continue to seek opportunities for collaboration.”
The Sacramento Bee obtained letters from teachers union attorneys to the district asking the district to rescind layoff approvals of 32 employees. The district withdrew layoff notices to the 10 most senior childhood development teachers. That left 22 teachers who had been laid off, and the union argues 19 of those should be rehired because they have more seniority than preschool teachers who remain on the job, according to the lawsuit.
Since the early child development layoffs, three teachers have been rehired.
“Cutting child development programs to some of our most vulnerable families is unconscionable, especially after the school board and superintendent repeatedly misled our community that the district was on the brink of insolvency,” read a statement from the teachers union. “After giving the district every opportunity to correct its unlawful behavior, we have filed this writ.”
The district’s finances remain unstable and its latest budget plan was disapproved by county education officials last month because it fell short of meeting its minimum reserve requirement.
SCUSD Director of Child Development Jacquie Bonini wrote to the Sacramento Employment and Training Agency in January, requesting that the district be able to return hundreds of preschool slots and funding because “the growing size of the [Early Childhood Development] department has made it difficult to provide the necessary oversight and supervision.”
The Sacramento Employment and Training Agency, a joint effort by the city and county, supports the federally funded Head Start program and state funded programs with $6.5 million. But the district has been supplementing funding for the programs. District spokesman Alex Barrios told The Sacramento Bee in August that the funding gap had increased and the district would have to contribute $2.3 million in 2018-19. The growing costs were due to salary increases and employee benefits, according to district officials.
The district ran Early Head Start for infants and toddlers, preschool programs at various elementary schools, in-house programs for children with medical needs, and prenatal education, all of which were cut when the layoffs occurred.
The district said the state and federal funding they receive is not sufficient to cover the costs of running the preschool programs.
Bonini told The Bee in March that all families will have a preschool to go to in the 2019-2020 school year.
“It is our utmost goal to make sure those families in our community are served,” she said.
The teachers union is asking that the district rescind the layoff notices issued to the 19 teachers, and rehire them.