Sunday, March 29, 2009

Layoff By Seniority Really Is the Best Way


"It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried." -- Winston Churchill

The RIF/Layoff situation statewide is getting intense. In my neck of the woods, Eastern Washington, there are 11 districts that have already committed to reducing staff next year, and I think that number could easily triple (or more!) after the Senate and House release their budgets next week. In my home district the Superintendent has told all the provisional teachers that they may not be invited back next year because of an impending million-dollar budget hole that needs to be filled.

I'm sympathetic to thoughts like those expressed at What It's Like on the Inside, where The Science Goddess questions why seniority is the be-all, end-all in deciding who stays and who goes in a budget crisis. It's an idea expanded upon by old nemesis Marguerite Roza here, but the devil is right there in the lede:

K-12 school districts that lay off personnel according to seniority cause disproportionate damage to their programs and students than if layoffs were determined on a seniority-neutral basis.
The trouble I have is that if you're going to be neutral on seniority then you're going to have to decide who stays and who goes based on other factors, and that's when things really fall apart.

Consider the state salary schedule; a teacher who is "maxed" makes $64,887 a year in base salary, while a new teacher only takes home $34,426. If you need to save $100,000 you'd have to RIF three new teachers to get over that bar, while you'd only need 2 advanced teachers. For $500,000 in savings it's 15 new teachers, but only 8 senior teachers. Clearly, there's less disruption to program if you fire the tier-I people first.

But in its own way, isn't that layoff by seniority?
If you go to the top of the seniority list to save money--and I absolutely believe that there are administrators in this state who would love to do that--then you're targetting the senior teachers for making more money, which is just as capricious as seniority.

This EdWeek article gets into the idea of tying teacher "effectiveness" with layoff, but that way madness lies. How do I do that for the psychologist, the PE teacher, the Math Coach, or the nurse, all of whom are in my bargaining unit? If the worst teacher in my district is the speech pathologist, a layoff isn't going to help that situation because she's also the first one to be called back into that position.

Similarly, who validates "effectiveness"? Last year when there were three teachers new to the grade level the other senior teacher and I took on most of the toughest kids so that the new folks could have a softer landing, and that's the responsible thing to do. If doing the right thing puts me in position to get fired, I'm not going to do the right thing any more.

Layoff by seniority may be the worst way to do it, but it's better than all the other alternatives.

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6 Comments:

Blogger The Science Goddess said...

What if you didn't layoff more experienced/expensive teachers...and instead offered more of a "golden parachute" option? Costs districts in the short term, but saves overall.

Of course, this is no guarantee that experienced teachers who perform poorly in the classroom (i.e. "the dead wood") would be the first to line up for this. Also, people's 401K's/IRAs/etc. are in sucky shape at the moment, making depending on those sources (instead of salary) unattractive.

Seems like there needs to be some way to make things happen in a way that's win-win for as many as possible.

11:22 AM  
Blogger Dr Pezz said...

I wonder if seniority safety is the trade-off for benefits not provided to teachers (pay differences, etc.). I cannot think of a system as equitable and objective as seniority when RIFs are concerned.

In my school the decisions would be based on who doesn't ask questions (keep them) and who asks the tough questions (boot them). Any other system besides seniority seems to require quite a bit of trust, and I know we don't have it.

9:49 PM  
Blogger Ryan said...

I'm all for retirement incentive packages and was kind of surprised not to see that mentioned in either of the budget proposals that have come out; even if you offered $10k to go, the state would still save money.

But, like Goddess said, people are looking at their 401k statements and not seeing the bridge to get them to social security, and that's keeping them around longer than they should be.

There is no good answer. We'll probably be having the same discussions when it comes time for me to retire in 2070.

11:53 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

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4:47 AM  
Anonymous Ellen Rice said...

What do you do with the tenured/senior educator who is crummy at their job? No business can afford to keep the worst staff member on during an economic crisis. Yes, you can objectively and fairly count up how many years someone has been working -- but why should my district give RIF letters to some of our most talented (and young) teachers while a couple of incompetent others stick around year after year making students and parents miserable?

Seems like there should be some other things on the table besides date of birth . . .

9:47 PM  
Anonymous Kendra Campbell said...

I totally agree with the science goddess. Those teachers who are well payed than everyone else and more experienced are the ones getting the most money. People who are doing poorly on the job and experiencing a lot of complaints from administration and parents should be the first ones to comsider for lay offs.

8:38 AM  

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