It was with great interest that I read news stories with screaming headlines about Alum Rock UESD being sued. As a former employee of Alum Rock Union, I wondered which Alum Rock exploit was about to be brought before a court of law. Would it be school board members running over other board members in the DO parking lot? Or the million dollars embezzled from the District and its foundation? Or the varied and exciting buyouts offered nearly to an endless supply of Superintendents? Or some civil suit action around the 1992 arrest of an Alum Rock principal for on-campus drug dealing?
No! Alum Rock is being sued for being Alum Rock. Well, for seniority and retention rules. According to the lawsuit, last-hired-first-fired means that Alum Rock students face ineffective, tenured lifers. Indeed, a student decided to attend one of the many local charter schools rather than continue at a real public school!
This lawsuit naming Alum Rock is ridiculous. It's clearly the work of badly-informed deformers, unsurprisingly funded by Eli Broad. It's not the targeted type of suit attacking equal opportunity at hard-to-staff schools in a big district (although LAUSD is also a named defendant). It's a big anti-union attack.
First off, I have to point out that anyone attending one of the many Alum Rock-schism charters is going to be getting a lightly-trained newbie, almost certainly a Teach for American. This is a side point, though.
The obvious problem in this lawsuit is that Alum Rock is Alum Rock. It is an entirely high-need District. Over 80% of its students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch. Most students are English Language Learners: in my five years, four of my classes were 100% ELL and the other 95%. Since the District encompasses east San Jose and the surrounding unincorporated area, it has a tiny property tax base (and also gets to spend a lot of money operating the school on Mt. Hamilton).
All of this means Alum Rock is defined by teacher churn. Five years sent me halfway up the District seniority list (the District being small enough to print one and send a copy to each school). I got a signing bonus for taking a job there - $4000. My first classroom was consolidated because there were too few students, so I ended up replacing a teacher who quit two weeks into the year. Ten days in Alum Rock was too much for many teachers. In my five years, I met (and interviewed!) many applicants for teaching jobs; few had credentials in hand and few lasted as long as I did (for the record, I left because a year of commuting from San Francisco left me grumpy and shortened from standing in a car-ready crouch).
My Alum Rock classrooms had cockroaches, mice, water beetles, ants, and black widow spiders. One year, our playground was burnt down (probably by a middle schooler messing around, but the smell of burnt plastic lasted a long time). Our entire computer lab was stolen within a month of being set up. I developed a severe health problem due to black mold from a major construction error during school renovation - one so bad my principal filled out the worker's compensation papers for me (in the end, I STILL didn't file: Alum Rock will give you that kind of martyrdom). I lost over a thousand dollars of personal materials for which I was not compensated when that construction error finally gave way and flooded the Kindergarten storage room. I once taught during a cold snap in a classroom with no heat and no electricity - for three days. And all of this was at one of the "cushy" Alum Rock schools.
What I'm saying is that LIFO has next to no impact on Alum Rock classrooms. Alum Rock has low teacher seniority because it's a challenging place to work and teachers leave for the comparatively easy surrounding districts (San Jose Unified, Evergreen, etc.). Teacher tenure protections have next to no impact on Alum Rock classrooms: starting a third year (and thereby getting tenure) is about two years too many for lots of teachers who begin their careers in Alum Rock.
So suing Alum Rock - naming them as a defendant - is ridiculous. If Alum Rock struggles with ineffective teachers, it's because few first year teachers are effective. It's not tenure or LIFO: if Alum Rock is laying off teachers who want to stay, that really is the state's fault for failing to fund a District that needs more than many others.
Suing Alum Rock over these things suggests that the plaintiffs were so eager to strike against the dread forces of teacher seniority and tenure - really, against basic union protections - that they couldn't be bothered to do their homework. This is nothing like suing LAUSD for equal opportunity violations - LAUSD has a mixed socioeconomic and ethnolinguistic student base, and those schools with higher-needs populations do suffer unfairly from teacher layoffs (the whole tenure attack is so ridiculous it's not worth my time: one of the reasons high-needs schools are low seniority sites is because tenured teachers don't generally want to stay in the hardest schools. In this, they are joined by all workers nationwide, who prefer manageable jobs to endless difficulties in bad conditions).
The entirety of Alum Rock is high-needs. The District's existence as a badly-funded one in a poor part of town is the problem: those aren't conditions that attract trained workers in demand.
So Students Matter (In the Fight Against Unions) is suing against teacher tenure and LIFO because Alum Rock is poor. That's so senseless it can only make sense at the Hoover Institute or somewhere equally attracted to bad research for political ends.