Precious Jackson has two years of teaching under her belt and two school teacher-of-the-year awards to show for it. She also has a pink slip.
Now Jackson is a prime target for growing school districts across the country hoping to cherry-pick from thousands of California teachers who have been warned they could be laid off because of state budget woes.
"Your future is in our classroom," the Fort Worth, Texas, school district says on a San Diego billboard. It plans to send recruiters to the city next month to dangle $3,000 signing bonuses.
Several Los Angeles-area newspapers are carrying ads for the Clark County, Nev., school district, which hopes to lure teachers to Las Vegas with $2,000 incentives.
"We don't hear things like that here," said Jackson, 25, who teaches English at Lincoln High School, her alma mater in San Diego's hardscrabble Lincoln Park neighborhood. "Instead we just don't know what to expect, and it makes us feel underappreciated."
Jackson was among a wave of teachers hired in recent years as California raised education spending to cut class sizes. Now she is at the mercy of state legislators who are negotiating more than $4 billion in education cuts proposed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to combat a budget shortfall caused by the housing slump and a stagnant economy.
During budget stalemates, layoff notices are practically a rite of spring for California public school teachers. State law requires teachers be notified by March 15 if their jobs are in jeopardy for the next school year, and districts routinely cast a wide net to prepare for the worst. In previous fiscal crises, only a small fraction of those who got pink slips eventually lost their jobs.
Preparing for cutbacks
This year, some districts, including the behemoth Los Angeles Unified, have avoided layoff notices to teachers, but many are preparing for deep cuts. About 14,000 teachers have received pink slips throughout the state, according to the California Teachers Association.
San Diego Unified School District, the state's second-largest, has issued the most with about 900. Notices were sent out by seniority, touching people with fresh credentials like Jackson.
The notices also went to experienced hands like Lincoln High's Guillermo Gomez, 37, who was named a San Diego County Teacher of the Year in 2006 for his work in suburban Chula Vista. He lost his seniority when he joined the San Diego district last year to help launch a new college-track program in social justice at Lincoln.
Only math, science and special-education teachers were protected in San Diego.
"I took a risk and a $10,000 pay cut to come here," said Gomez, whose wife, an elementary-school teacher, was also given notice. "Now we're in limbo and waiting for the worst."
Recruiters from other districts aren't shy about boasting their advantages.
"We don't have an ocean but we have a very good climate, and for a teacher's salary we're considerably more affordable than what San Diego or California is," said Clint Bond, a spokesman for the Fort Worth Independent School District.
'I worked really hard to be a teacher'
Andrea Wiesner, a middle-school teacher in San Diego whose one-year contract won't be renewed, plans to apply in Henderson, Nev., south of Las Vegas, to take advantage of generous student-loan repayment assistance offered by the Clark County School District.
"I worked really hard to be a teacher and now it's like, 'Well, if you want to stay in California, go back and work jobs you worked in college,'" the 28-year-old said. "But I can't just volunteer. I need a job."
In the past, Clark County hired from shrinking districts in cities like Detroit. This year, the district is targeting California, where prospective hires can easily drive to weekend interviews, said Martha Tittle, chief human resources officer.
Yet she also worries that California teachers will back out of their new jobs if the state fixes its budget problems, as it has in the past.
"If we fill offers with people who may change their minds because they have other options, that doesn't help us," Tittle said.
Some California teachers, however, say they've had enough spring budget anxiety.
Patrick Konen, 25, a history teacher who got a pink slip in his second year at San Diego Unified, interviewed this week in districts outside Atlanta. His wife, a fifth-grade teacher who was given notice by a neighboring district, was offered a job in Georgia on the spot, and the principal offered to help him find a position.
"In San Diego you're throwing yourself at principals and begging them to hire you, and you maybe get an offer two days before the school year starts," said Konen, a California native. "I don't want to live that way, and I think we deserve better."