“Pink slips.” Why it happens, and how it works.

As students returned to school after winter break last year, SFUSD parents started to hear warnings about budget cuts and potential teacher layoffs. In February 2022, SFUSD issued over 400 preliminary notices of potential layoffs (“pink slips”) to teachers and administrators. Although most of those staff will not lose their jobs, receiving a pink slip is enormously unsettling and stressful. As parents, the process seems to make little sense. Why does SFUSD put teachers through this awful pink-slip process? Below, we answer this and other frequently asked questions about SFUSD’s sending pink slips to its teachers.

Why does SFUSD send out pink slips to its teachers every year?

Our teachers receive pink slips if the SFUSD Board of Education determines that economic circumstances require decreasing the number of permanent employees. Because personnel costs represent approximately 80% of the district’s budget and SFUSD has been dealing with a structural budget deficit for many years, we confront potential teacher layoffs annually.

If SFUSD is considering teacher layoffs at all in order to balance the upcoming school year’s budget, it must follow a specific “reduction in force” notification procedure specified in state law. The reduction-in-force procedure is spelled out in California Education Code §44955(c), which requires that school districts notify certain teachers before the 15th of May that their positions may possibly be terminated. If a teacher does not receive this notification, that teacher must be reemployed for the ensuing school year. State law also specifies that layoffs must occur in a strict order based on seniority and teacher credentialing.

How does the pink slip process affect teachers?

A 2016 study found that there are many negative consequences to the state’s teacher reduction-in-force notification process, including an increased likelihood that teachers will leave their schools and will be less productive.

What happens to teachers after they receive a pink slip?

If they receive a reduction-in-force notification, teachers have an automatic right to a hearing with the California Department of General Services, Office of Administrative Hearings. Although this step helps ensure districts are correctly following the reduction-in-force protocol, a 2012 California Legislative Analyst’s Office study found that teachers’ automatic right to a hearing adds significant costs. The LAO estimated that districts spend roughly $700 per teacher who receives a pink slip for additional legal and administrative costs.

Teachers who receive a pink slip on May 15 are often brought back after that date once the district’s finances are better understood. However, if the reduction-in-force requirements are correctly followed and SFUSD does eliminate teaching positions, layoffs can occur based on teacher credentials and seniority in the district as a whole. After layoffs, some teachers may be reassigned from one school site to another. Though there were 370 pink slips issued to teachers earlier this year in February, by May only five teachers received final layoff notices.

Teachers who are laid off from SFUSD due to a reduction in force are usually able to find employment in other districts, because there is a statewide shortage of teachers, especially in special education, math, and science.

The process sounds awful—is there a more humane way to notify teachers of potential layoffs?

Yes. The 2012 LAO report contained several recommendations to reform the reduction-in-force process, but the state law hasn’t yet been changed.

Ultimately, the only way to avoid teacher pink slips is for SFUSD to be fiscally sound in its budgeting and ensure that it is not spending more than it is receiving in revenues.