Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District offices (File photo)

Two dozen educators in the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District are set to be laid off prior to next school year after a vote was undertaken by the district’s board of education Tuesday night.

SMMUSD’s board voted 4-3 to approve 24 layoff notices Tuesday. The decision follows a recent decision from an administrative law judge that clarified which teachers could be lost and directs staff to continue with the layoff process. Oscar de la Torre, Ralph Mechur and Maria Leon-Vazquez each voted no on Tuesday night’s resolution that served as one of the final steps in a pink slip process that has been described as “painstaking” by local officals.

California Education Code details specific deadlines that must be adhered to when districts are looking to layoff certificated staff, and the recently approved resolution served as another step in the Reduction-In-Force process, according to Mark Kelly, SMMUSD’s director of student services.

The board has slowly rescinded RIF notices since February when they proposed approximately 50 layoffs as a result of declining enrollment, which directly affects the number of teachers who are required throughout the district. In the weeks since the layoffs were first proposed, many parents, students and teachers have become emotional as they attempt to persuade the board to keep beloved educators like Matthew Kirk, Sarah Paulis and the teachers who work in Samohi’s Immersion program. Each has had a tremendous impact on their campuses, according to the hundreds of public comments that have been offered at various board of education meetings.

The District has walked back about half of the initial total and officials said they hoped to be able to rehire or reclassify some of the current 24 layoffs to preserve additional jobs. SMMUSD officials said they intend to rehire some of the pink slipped educators back in the near future.

Union head Sarah Braff previously said she understands the district’s need for cuts, but some union members have taken issue with skipping, which is a process that allows newer teachers to be retained over senior educators if they are more qualified.

Since there isn’t a surefire way to determine if a teacher is more qualified or valuable than another with the same credentials, Ed Code allows pink-slipped educators to seek out the opinion of a judge who will hear questionable cases and decide the outcome.

With all of the cases concluded, the board was expected to vote on the resolution and accept the judge’s decision last Thursday, but it did not receive proper notice until an hour before the meeting. So, the board gathered Tuesday to decide if it will serve advance notice to those with jobs on the chopping block.

During the meeting, board members explained why it was necessary for the district to vote yes on the proposed resolution.

“This is a bureaucratic moment where we have to vote on something because if we don’t, then we lose our options; we lose our ability to control our budget; we lose our ability to find ways to make this work in a positive way,” board member Craig Foster said before he voted to move forward with the layoffs. “I can’t apologize enough for the process and how it works, and the inhumanity of it. It’s not in our hands to change it. It’s part of the laws of the state of California.”

Board member Richard Tahvildaran-Jesswein added shortly after, “I am voting yes because I do feel confident in Dr. Kelly, Dr. Drati and his team that they will do everything they can do to ensure that there is the least number of teachers who are let go as possible.”

The district is expected to discuss its current budget at the next meeting, according to Mechur, who said he hopes the district will use that time to find ways to avoid layoffs, “and not just leave lives hanging in the balance.”

Braff said after the vote that the union still hopes the district will sign pink slipped educators to open positions in the district so they can return to work soon.

An earlier version of this story stated 13 educators are expected to not have a position in the district prior to next school year and implied the school board had already rescinded some pink slips. It has been updated to reflect that the board approved 24 layoff notices Tuesday.

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