An open letter from a laid-off teacher
By Shelly Steely
Muirlands Middle School
Today, I attended the informational meeting at the Ed Center held by the district for laid-off employees. We were instructed to attend by last name; however, I wanted to get all of the information as soon as possible because there has been so little information offered so far. Despite warnings about limited parking and seat space, I had no trouble finding a spot and the auditorium was only about half full. I was hopeful that someone would be able to answer any questions we had about the “impacts and effects” of the lay-off process. Instead, we were given about six handouts. The presentation consisted of various employees from the district basically reading us the information on the handouts. The overall message was this: There is no information; act as though you will not get your job back. We then received information about when and how to apply for unemployment, how much COBRA benefits will cost, and given pamphlets on how to cope with job loss. (Apparently we should all eat healthier, quit smoking, and adopt a positive attitude.)
The most important piece of information – the ONLY REASON I went to the meeting – is that our benefits end June 30th. For ALL employees, year-round or traditional. That is correct – on June 4th, we were FINALLY informed that our health care will expire in 26 days. We were given information about COBRA and district coverage options. My COBRA payment comes out to $1336.52 per month, more if I want to keep my dental and vision plans. The informational packet we received about Unemployment Insurance informs me that I am eligible to receive $1800 a month (pre-tax), the maximum amount payable. This means that in order to remain insured, I would have to figure out how to survive on $463.48 a month. If I was not laid off, I would be eligible to receive my regular paycheck during the summer (12 month pay option) and I would have full benefits.
I am enraged on so many levels that the district is willing to risk having 1546 teachers without health insurance over the summer, knowing full well that there is almost no chance any of these teachers will be able to find new employment during that time period. In fact, it is incredibly difficult to get hired if you are a laid-off teacher – most employers assume that your layoff will be rescinded, and they don’t want to risk losing you in September. Not to mention the fact that these teachers WANT TO BE TEACHING. I don’t want to leave my profession and I’m fairly certain my colleagues don’t, either. I know we’ve dealt with layoffs before, but this is like being kicked while we are down. This should not be happening. Every teacher is dealing with this terrifying uncertainty, and many of us will have to decide what is more important – paying our monthly bills or paying for health insurance. This is a particularly difficult decision for me, as I am 31 weeks pregnant with twins. I had no reason to believe that my benefits would expire as last year they were extended through September 30, but they will. And now that I am this far along, I am left with almost no options for coverage for my family. I have 26 days to figure out how I will continue care to ensure a positive outcome for me and both babies, at a time when I should be focusing on my classroom and my students. Of even more concern to me are the teachers at year-round schools who are expected to stay in their classrooms until the end -even though they will be laid-off, making pro-rata, and have NO health insurance. I’m not sure I would have it in me to stick it out. In fact, there has been talk that some of them won’t return to teaching on July 1st – which is perfectly within their legal rights. As much as we all love teaching, it is a career. In what other profession would you be laid off, but asked to continue working? At some point, you have to draw the line.
After the meeting, the presenters were available to answer questions and we were informed that Human Resources was open until 7pm to deal with questions. I went to HR to ask about how the decision to end our benefits was made; I was sent to Payroll/Benefits who then sent me back to HR, only to find out that the person who could answer my questions had left already. I went back in and asked one of the presenters, who informed me that the decision to extend, or not extend, benefits is made by SDEA and the district’s legal team, and that my best bet would be to talk to an SDEA representative about my concerns.
On my way out, I picked up my cell phone to turn the sound back on and realized I had missed a call from SDEA – the call we’ve all been waiting for to answer their survey questions about concessions. I immediately called back, but by then it was after 5pm and all I got was their out of office message. This is the call that I have been waiting for so that I could voice my opinion on possible concessions. Some people might be surprised to hear this, but I am not in favor of making concessions in exchange for the implied result of “some layoffs rescinded.” No one can tell me how many jobs I will save with these concessions – something that I think is essential before anyone even considers renegotiating a closed contract. I love teaching, and like all of us, I teach because I have a passion for the career. But we are professionals and should be treated as such. I have no reason to believe that these concessions are necessary because no one will give me enough information to make this decision. This is what it all really boils down to: The very people who are deeply affected by all of this have no solid information on which to base their decisions. I would really like someone – SDUSD, SDEA, the organizations who are supposedly working with the best interests of teachers and children at hand – to explain to me what exactly is going on. While I’m waiting to hear from someone -anyone!- it would be really nice if I could have my benefits back.