Seniority has long been a determining factor when Alabama’s school districts must contend with reducing staffing because of shrinking budgets. Reduction-in-force (RIF) declarations allow school districts to lay off employees when their budgets shrink without violating Teacher Tenure and Fair Dismissal laws. Each school district is required to have its own RIF policy in accordance with state law.
HB657 has been introduced to release school districts from having to focus on seniority when making RIF decisions. A substitute version of HB657 was given a favorable report by the House Education Policy committee.
This bill prohibits the consideration of seniority when making “reduction-in-force, layoff, recall, retention, and other relevant staffing decisions”.
Further, it mandates the use of the following criteria when determining which employees will be let go in RIF decisions:
- Individual employee performance to be determined by “evidence of employee performance, demonstrated instructional skills, and preparation skills that maximize instructional time as assessed by the school principal or school administrators, as appropriate”. This will be the most “heavily-weighted factor”. Determination of employee performance is not limited to these factors.
- “Significant or relevant, or both, contributions to the school”.
- “Degrees and credentials relevant to the mission or objective, or both, of the school”.
- “Any record of misconduct, criminal conduct, or excessive unexcused absence from work.
Recent Action on This Front in Alabama
With school district budgets shrinking in the recent past, RIF declarations have been common in Alabama. Expectations for the 2012-2013 budget are bleak, and many districts will most likely be faced with making more RIF declarations when making their staffing plans for next year.
RIF policies are no stranger to controversy. Huntsville City Schools attempted to revise their RIF policy last school year before making cuts necessary due to financial woes, but the state department of education advised them not to revise their RIF policy prior to the end of that school year. Huntsville was forced to shrink their expenditures and let many employees go through a RIF declaration. Even after that declaration, a number of employees of Huntsville City Schools won their jobs back through appeals.
RIF policies allow for an appeals process for certain categories of employees. Those appeals can drag out the process for quite a while. Here’s an example of a lawsuit that dragged on for three years in Mobile after an employee was laid off in a RIF decision. The case finally ended last year. I can’t really tell who won the case from the articles. The employee continued to get paid while he was appealing his decision. He was not ordered to be rehired. He retired during the course of the legal case.
A poll commissioned in March of this year by StudentsFirst indicated that 74% of Alabamians who were asked were in favor of adding classroom performance criteria to the plate when districts made RIF decisions.
What’s Happening Nationally in This Arena
The vast majority of school districts use seniority to determine which teachers are laid off in RIF decisions. The National Council for Teacher Quality (NCTQ) recently published its “State Teacher Policy Yearbook 2011“, which includes a policy recommendation for Exiting Ineffective Teachers (page 122 of the document) that suggests states “should require that districts consider classroom performance and ensure that seniority is not the only factor used to determine which teachers are laid off.”
As of 2011, only eleven states required classroom performance to be considered in RIF decisions.
[Here’s a quick look at efforts to reform tenure laws across the U.S. That’s a different discussion, though.]
This bill currently is waiting for full debate by the House. Thursday is Day 23 of the legislative session.