Stephanie Kuroda, a 33-year-old elementary school teacher in the Sacramento City Unified School District, received her first preliminary pink slip in the spring of 2008—a formal notice that she had no guarantee of a job come fall. After several months of uncertainty, she finished the school year and said goodbye to her students, not knowing if she would teach again. She cleared out her classroom, put her teaching materials into storage . . . and then, at the very last minute, on the eve of the new school year, she received a call to return to work.
It happened again in 2009 and once more in 2010.
California budgets had been overstretched for years prior to the onset of the Great Recession. In fact, from 2006, the state had been slashing services, including funds for schools, in a vain attempt to bring the budget into balance. Then, as the state’s fiscal woes worsened in the aftermath of the 2008 financial collapse—when the housing market’s implosion triggered bank failures, which in turn generated huge levels of unemployment, which then reduced government tax revenues—the scale of the crisis got worse and the cuts picked up steam.
Similar stories to Kuroda’s played out, with increasing frequency, throughout Sacramento area school districts. Preliminary pink slips were issued every March because the budget amounts available for the following school year were up in the air. Some pink slips would be rescinded at the end of the school year or just before the start of the next, but others would be affirmed. Over the summer, teachers were shuffled from one school to another, one grade to another, one specialty area to another, as administrators worked out how to keep as many teachers hired within the district as possible. P.E. teachers laid off from one school re-emerged in others as second-grade teachers. English teachers transmogrified into science instructors, and orchestra teachers were put in charge of third-grade classrooms. School principals and other administrative staff, laid off as schools closed down or consolidated their administrations, moved into classrooms again, trading prestige for ongoing employment. And so on.
Continuity of learning simply went out the window.
Every year, during the first month of school, teachers caromed from school to school like balls in a pinball machine. Older teachers with the most seniority, laid off from one school, would show up at another while younger teachers with less seniority ended up in the layoff line. Every year, a good number of those pink-slipped a few months earlier would find themselves jobless.
This is the story of a system in crisis, of what Sacramento City Unified School District Superintendent Jonathan Raymond terms “the continual corrosive effect on morale” of cuts, and of the collateral damage—to teachers, to students and to the broader community—when there isn’t enough money to pay all of the city’s education bills. It is a story about priorities and about what happens when our commitment to providing all children with the best possible education wavers. “It has an effect on the culture and climate of the school and the classroom,” Raymond says. “It’s not good for California, not good for learning in our state.”
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