By Edwin Folven, 8/16/2012
LAUSD layoffs prompt Ray Vizcarra to switch districts
When students returned to Fairfax High School on Tuesday, members of the band and orchestra learned they would be without their music director, Ray Vizcarra, who has left the Los Angeles Unified School District for a teaching job in Beverly Hills.
Vizcarra left his mark on the program at Fairfax High School, where he was hired in 2006 to resurrect a music program that had been defunct for more than a decade. Although the school is the alma mater to prominent names in music such as jazz legend Herb Alpert and members of Guns N’ Roses and the Red Hot Chili Peppers, the music program was dropped in the 1990s because of funding problems and other issues. Vizcarra, a West Hollywood resident, quickly restored harmony to the program, turning it into an award-winning group. Under Vizcarra’s direction, the marching band won the LAUSD All-City Championship in 2007 and 2010, the Southwestern Regional Championship in 2009, as well as dozens of other awards. The color guard program also perennially finished among the top three finalists in state competitions, and the orchestra was also a frequent finalist in LAUSD competitions, Vizcarra said. Fairfax High School assistant principal David Siedelman added that Vizcarra made a significant impact at the school.
“It is definitely devastating to the program,” Siedelman said. “We are still working on [finding a replacement].”
Vizcarra said he reluctantly made the decision to move on after receiving a layoff notice from the LAUSD in June as part of district-wide cutbacks. He said he had received similar notices in previous years, and they had always been rescinded, but there was no guarantee that would occur again this year. After several years of facing uncertainty about his job security, Vizcarra said he decided to look at other options.
“It was the imminent doom of getting laid off every year,” Vizcarra said. “Last year, I got laid off too, but I was optimistic and was rehired. I got a notice again this year, and I was shocked. I just started to tear up. Once I got over that phase, I decided to move forward.”
The LAUSD lays off teachers and staff based on seniority, and because Vizcarra had only six years with the district, he was one of the first teachers to face being cut. When he learned there was an opening for an orchestra and band director in the Beverly Hills Unified School District, he jumped at the opportunity. A few weeks after the initial interview, Vizcarra was hired, and will begin teaching on Aug. 27 at Hawthorne Elementary School. He said although it was very difficult to leave the students at Fairfax High School — and Laurel Span School, where he taught 6th through 8th grade students for the past two years — he is much more optimistic about his future. Vizcarra added that after he signed a contract in July with the Beverly Hills Unified School District, LAUSD officials called to say he could remain at Fairfax High, but it was too late.
“I had already signed a contract and didn’t want to go through the process again and waste people’s time,” Vizcarra said. “It’s tough because the decision about layoffs are made somewhere else, and they don’t take into account how it affects people. It should be based on ability, not seniority. Age has nothing to do with teaching ability. When you have these teachers who are really connected to the students, it’s unfortunate that you have these layoffs.”
LAUSD Board member Steve Zimmer, who oversees the 4th District that includes Fairfax High School, did not return phone calls. Zimmer sent a letter to the Fairfax High School staff and parents on Aug. 10, however, outlining his disappointment that Vizcarra was moving on.
“I do not need to explain how the stress of the RIF (reduction in force) process devastates our vulnerable teachers like Mr. Vizcarra,” Zimmer said in the letter. “This year, despite our best efforts, the RIF process and the labor negotiations were particularly long and painful. Ultimately, even though the district rehired Mr. Vizcarra, he chose to accept a position in another district where layoffs will never be a possibility. I am very sad and disappointed about this decision, but I am not angry at Mr. Vizcarra. It is not fair to ask any professional or any family to go through this stress every year. I am angry about the criminal underfunding of our schools and the student exodus to charter schools that has created this situation and this great loss for our community.”
Vizcarra added that although he is optimistic about his future in Beverly Hills, he is saddened that he will no longer be at Fairfax High.
“I have such mixed feelings. It’s exciting, but bittersweet,” Vizcarra added. “I am going to miss a lot of my students. It’s going to be devastating, but I’m planning to go back and visit.”