It's that time of year when anxiety and anger grip educators throughout local school districts.
Will they have a job come July 1st?
Ever since the economy cratered several years ago, the ritual of putting teachers, counselors, nurses and staff on notice of intent to issue layoffs has been playing out to nobody's satisfaction.
It's embedded in the state's education code.
And reforming the process has proven a tough assignment.
At this point in local budgeting projections, there's absolutely no certainty how much money the state will provide for the fiscal year beginning July 1.
But school trustees have legal mandates to give district employees an early "heads-up" that heads may roll by June 30.
And Tuesday night, the San Diego Unified School District's Board of Education unanimously -- and unhappily -- voted for another round of pink slips that target 1,633 positions, until a revised state budget comes out in early May.
If the numbers add up right, layoffs may be avoided.
But districts can't bet on that.
"How many times have we been fooled or had our expectations dampened by a piece of positive news, negated by a couple pieces of negative news?" says SDUSD Superintendent Bill Kowba. "Who would have guessed that we would be in a fifth year of this fiscal crisis?"
This indictment of the status quo is offered by Will Carless, education specialist for our media partner Voice of San Diego: "Everybody knows that it's a ludicrous system."
But Carless adds that it's been difficult for the players in this game of by-guess and by-gosh to overcome political and institutional inertia in order to reform the process.
"All you see is the district saying 'We're going to lay hundreds of people off -- now, we're going to rescind hundreds of those slips," Carless says. "And they just end up looking kind of foolish, and looking like they're just scare-mongering."
Keeping class sizes from escalating has been a struggle as budget-balancing gets more drastic.
Nobody wants to cut school days.
"Larger class sizes and shortened school years are bad for children, bad for staff and bad for the community," Kowba said in an interview Wednesday.
Gov. Brown is touting a temporary tax initiative to address the funding dilemma.
But in the meantime, no stress-relief is in sight.
There's been talk of moving the striking date for layoff notices to mid-June, and other reforms.
But talk is cheap, and organized labor is noncommittal.
"They would need the support of the (San Diego Educational Assn. and California Teachers Assn.) and the major unions in the state to do that," Carless explains. "But everyone I've spoken to seems interested in changing the system, because it doesn't work. It's stupid, you know? Whether they'll do it is another thing."
Says Kowba: "It does beg -- scream out -- for a change to a process that requires the local school district to prematurely act, and act with incomplete information."
The district has until May 15 to rescind, or formally lay off personnel in advance of adopting a budget by June 30.
In last year's process, 90 percent of the pink slips issued were withdrawn.
But current budget projections don't hold much optimism for those who wind up with pink slips this year.