Dozens of educators to be laid off in West Contra Costa

Dozens of educators in the West Contra Costa Unified School District will be laid off in the upcoming school year, including grant-funded positions the district can’t afford to absorb. 

The district plans to eliminate 104 positions, nearly 40 of those grant-funded, according to district officials. Assistant principals, instructional specialists, psychologists, bilingual paraprofessionals, academic support providers, special education and general education teachers are among the positions being eliminated. 

Although some educators received preliminary layoff notices on March 15, the board won’t finalize the total number of eliminations until May, officials said. Some of the eliminated positions were already vacant.

“We understand the community’s concerns about the impact of these layoffs on classroom staffing,” district spokesperson Raechelle Forrest said in an email. “It is important to note that the district is committed to hiring and maintaining qualified and credentialed individuals and that classroom teachers have not received preliminary notices.”

The school board approved layoffs at a meeting earlier this month. Dozens of parents, educators and students spoke during the public comment period, pleading with the board to vote against the layoffs. In particular, many people spoke about the importance of school community outreach worker positions that will be eliminated. 

School community outreach workers serve as liaisons between schools and families. Many of those workers are bilingual and can help with translations and teaching non-English speaking parents and students how to navigate the school system. Outreach workers also connect families with resources and can help facilitate meetings when there are language barriers. 

Outreach workers were among the grant-funded positions district officials said they couldn’t afford to keep without the extra money. The district would need about $9.4 million to keep the nearly 40 positions that are being axed, district data showed. Many of the positions relying on grant money provided extra support for students: bilingual instructional aides, graduate tutors, coordinators, academic support providers and bilingual paraprofessionals. 

In the 2022-23 school year, nearly 32% of students in West Contra Costa Unified were English learners, according to data from the California Department of Education. The percentage of English learners in the district who became fluent in English has dropped significantly since 2018, data shows, dropping from nearly 13% to about 3% in the 2020-21 school year, the most recent data available. 

The majority of English learners speak Spanish, about 27% or nearly 8,000 students in the 2022-23 school year. About 30,000 students are enrolled in West Contra Costa Unified. 

During public comment, parents and teachers spoke about the vital role outreach workers have for schools and the community. Without them, people contemplated how some families would continue to stay engaged in school communities. 

Educators were also outspoken about how the lack of staffing in schools has been affecting learning. Because of larger classes, there are fewer one-on-one opportunities; there’s an uptick in behavioral issues in classes with consistent substitutes, and teachers are losing prep periods in order to fill in for other classes. One student said he hasn’t had permanent teachers in core classes in recent years and, as a result, he hasn’t learned much. 

Three complaints were filed with West Contra Costa Unified earlier this year alleging some schools failed to provide students with qualified teachers. The complaints also allege there’s been a pattern of filling vacancies with long-term substitutes, which attorneys at Public Advocates, a nonprofit civil rights law firm, say is illegal. 

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