"I try to put it at the back of my mind, to be honest," said Matt Borowsk, one of the 10 teachers at Horace Mann who received a pink slip. Borowsk reiterated a common sentiment that all teachers — potentially laid off or not — just want to do their jobs and focus on their classes. "I want to be able to stay and do my work and make improvements. And I want to do what I can for the school community and work with students," he said. "I'm still in it, and I'm in it for the long run, despite what issues the district has about keeping their teachers."
Gail Eigl, a teacher at Horace Mann for eight years who is tenured and therefore not at risk of a layoff, concurred. "No one I know who got a pink slip has changed their attitude. People are trying to stay focused on the present and teach."
It's an admirable response, and one Eigl understands well. She was laid off after her first year there in 2001. "Six of us got pink slips," she recalled. "It was terrible." She went looking for a job in South San Francisco, but in a strange turn of events, SFUSD called and offered her a job at Argonne Elementary in the Richmond District. A year later, she was back where she started at Horace Mann, and until now, she hadn't really looked back.
"It's like the school keeps having problems," she said, an opinion that also hints at SFUSD's skewed notion of teaching as a stable career path.
Borowski offers a similar story. This year's pink slip is his second. Last year he received one after teaching only a year in Burlingame, which is how he ended up in San Francisco. Such rampant doling out of pink slips has nothing to do with Borowski's performance. Rather, it has everything to do with seniority. And because the state is in such a crunch, it's hard to stay in any school long enough before the budget's grim reaper comes to collect.
"People who are able to stick through the first five years, they genuinely want to be a good teacher, make seniority, and not have to worry about it," he said. And "because Horace Mann is a school where new teachers go, because it's a tough school, then they're the most vulnerable to layoffs. Which starts this vicious cycle."
It's classic Catch-22. Facing such a budget shortfall, how does SFUSD keep teachers who have little or no seniority teaching in the very schools whose litany of needs put those teachers there in the first place? In many ways, these are the most committed and passionate teachers the district has, and they represent for their classes a level of discipline and stability absent in many of their students' home lives.
Many of Eigl's students are low-income, speak English as a second language, or both. Some of their parents are deceased, others are undocumented immigrants, and a few are in jail.
"I honor tenure," she told us. "I know there's a reason for it. But right now, it doesn't seem to be working for us." Eigl brings up the case of a new parent liaison the school received this year, a critically important position that takes time building solid relationships with students' families. "She got a pink slip too," Eigl told us, the exasperation evident in her voice.
"I think people are really defeated inside. It's so frustrating," she continued. When asked what she meant by that, Eigl became heated. "It's California! We're supposed to be the richest economy. We should have money for schools. Why are other states doing so much more? We're at the bottom. Where's the money?" She suggested that Horace Mann should be granted special status because of its high-needs student body.