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.