Maria Elena Millings instructs Alexander, 4, in the Mobile Waterford Lab.
Paul Wellman

Teaching in a van is not for everybody. That’s something temporary teacher Maria Elena Millings learned after the 2008-2009 school year when her assignment ended and she was not rehired. A permanent teacher took her place working in the Mobile Waterford Lab, a job that requires not only teaching language skills to 4-year-olds but also driving a rebadged Mission Linen Supply truck around the city. Millings’s successor hated the job, parents had issues with her, and they stopped bringing their kids to the lab, which is the one of the Santa Barbara school district’s critical dams against unprepared kindergarteners, especially English learners.

At the February 26 school board meeting, the trustees approved end-of-assignment notices for 77 temporary teachers including Millings. (Trustee Pedro Paz abstained because his wife is a temporary teacher, and, for full disclosure, so is the wife of this reporter.) Such teachers are funded by impermanent money streams like parcel taxes or categorical funds. Millings depends on private donations for her salary. Thus, for four years she has been hired for a one-year assignment and notified in March that her assignment ends when the school year does, and then she waits all summer to find out if she will get her job again. “It’s scary,” she said, “because I have a family ​— ​my older child is in college ​— ​a mortgage, car payments.” Some temporary teachers must reapply and reinterview every year.

At Tuesday night’s meeting, the district also issued layoff notices for eight permanent probationary high school math teachers, a legal flexibility it is allowed to deal with budget shortfalls. The trouble is districts don’t really know how many teachers they can afford by the March 15 deadline for sending notices, so they tend to over-notice. Republican Senate leader Bob Huff has introduced legislation moving the deadline to June 1, aligning noticing to the state budgeting process.

“It’s disruptive to the remainder of the school year, it’s not good for kids, and I wish it was different,” he said.

School Superintendent David Cash, who said he was laid off his first three years as a teacher, called the misalignment between noticing and budgeting a “nightmare.” “It’s disruptive to the remainder of the school year, it’s not good for kids, and I wish it was different,” he said.

Not all teachers get hired back, though. Layne Wheeler, president of the Santa Barbara Teachers Association, said, “The current deadlines give employees a reasonable opportunity to find work in other districts that may have openings. Deadlines proposed in [Huff’s bill] AB 559 would mean teachers, librarians, nurses, counselors, and other certificated personnel could have as little time as two weeks to find a new position elsewhere.” Furthermore, he said, “I don’t think that changing the dates is going to be a substantial change,” noting that the Legislature often doesn’t hammer out a workable budget for schools until August or September and suggesting that legislators “get off their duffs” to provide timely budgets. In speaking with The Santa Barbara Independent, a spokesperson for Huff countered that the last two budgets have been completed on time and that the Legislative Analyst’s Office estimates notices cost $706 per teacher.

Temporary teachers also lose union protection by the end of their assignments. The district can’t pay for them to participate in summer professional development opportunities. And while it typically takes three years for a probationary (or new) teacher to earn tenure, that clock never starts ticking for temporary teachers, so they gather no seniority.

On the other hand, a permanent teacher can be knocked back into temporary status. Such is the case with Alex Sheldon, a San Marcos health teacher who started in the district in 2004. He gained tenure after three years but then began receiving consecutive pink slips until he lost his preferential job status, which expires after 39 months. He is now working on a temporary contract. A ubiquitous fixture at San Marcos, Sheldon has coached tennis, softball, and basketball, and he is supposed to head up the new Entrepreneurship Academy in the fall. The only catch is that the district can’t guarantee he’ll be there then.

Wheeler said that in the past, principals have assured temporary faculty members that they will rehire them only to find out that funding is not available. While principals can ask for specific employees, they don’t have the authority to make hires.

On the brighter side, the combination of a more settled budget, the passage of Proposition 30, and efforts on behalf of the superintendent has shrunk the numbers of those receiving pink slips. In 2011, 105 permanent teachers and 102 temporary teachers were noticed. “Although I don’t like to see any of our teachers laid off,” said Trustee Ed Heron from the dais, “this is the least number I’ve seen since I’ve been on the board.”


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