A Community Matters reader sent in a link to a recent Wall Street Journal article, Teacher Seniority Rules Challenged. (The full article is below). I wonder if the majority of educators favor or disfavor seniority-based layoff protections. I wonder how the majority of citizens feel as well. If I had to guess, I’d venture that most citizens are against teacher seniority serving as the primary determinant of job protection. I’m not sure about public school educators. What do you think?
I know that the challenging of teacher layoffs based on seniority is not a favorable teacher union approach. But if school administration did not use seniority to make the necessary budget cuts, what credible evaluation system could be properly used? Isn’t the major issue with “merit” based decisions on either pay or layoffs and even staffing is who is deciding? In the case of the TESD 2010-11 budget, it is understood that the District will not use teacher layoffs as a means to correct the budgetary gap . However, there will be programming cuts which will cause the furlough of teachers. Within the programming cuts, is it a correction assumption that teacher seniority will determine which teachers stay (or go) correct? This is an interesting topic; I’d like to hear from teachers, parents, administrators, residents. But do read the following article, think you will find it of interest:
Teacher Seniority Rules Challenge
With Tens of Thousands of Layoffs Looming, Government Officials and Parents Want to Change the ‘Last in, First out’ System
By Barbara Martinez
Teacher seniority rules are meeting resistance from government officials and parents as a wave of layoffs is hitting public schools and driving newer teachers out of classrooms.
In a majority of the country’s school districts, teacher layoffs are handled on a “last in, first out” basis. Critics of seniority rules worry that many effective and talented teachers who have been hired in recent years will lose their jobs.
Unions say that seniority rules are the only objective way to carry out layoffs, and that they protect teachers from the whims and bias of managers, who might fire effective teachers they don’t like.
This year, because of cuts in state aid to New York City, the city could be facing a loss of about 8,500 teacher jobs out of a total of 80,000. The last time the nation’s largest school system laid off a teacher was 1976.If New York City is forced to lay off some of the more than 30,000 new teachers it has hired in the past five years, it is “going to be catastrophic,” said Joel Klein, chancellor of the city’s school system. “We’re going to be losing a lot of great new teachers that we hired” in recent years, the chancellor said.
Mr. Klein added that another problem with “last in, first out” was that because newer teachers earn less than veterans, more teachers will end up losing their jobs.
First-grader Victoria Bernade copies a sentence as teacher Lori Peck goes over sentence structure at Grace L. Patterson Elementary school in Vallejo, Calif., on Feb. 12.
What Mr. Klein “is really trying to say is, ‘I would like to churn the work force by keeping cheaper teachers on the payroll,’ ” said Michael Mulgrew, president of the United Federation of Teachers, the teachers union in New York. “If we can do our work in a constructive and collaborative way, we can avoid the layoffs. That’s where we should be focusing our energy.” Mr. Klein has requested a number of times that the state legislature ban the sole use of seniority in layoff decisions. California’s governor made the same request last month. While politicians in these states are unlikely to enact such bans, the movement is gaining traction elsewhere.
Last year, Arizona passed a ban, and schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee in Washington, D.C., in addition to letting go some new teachers, laid off some who would otherwise have been protected by union seniority rules. Teachers unions in Arizona and Washington sued over the moves, but they lost their court challenges.
“It is a pent-up issue that has been pushed off and pushed off, and now we have to deal with it,” said Tim Daly, president of the New Teacher Project, a nonprofit that helps recruit teachers in mostly urban school districts and opposes seniority-based layoffs.
“It’s not just that you will lose teachers that you invested a lot in,” he said, “these cuts are being made in a quality-blind way.” Mr. Daly said some school districts were forced to lay off teacher-of-the-year nominees last year.
About 60,000 school workers were laid off across the country last year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, double the number laid off in 2008 and three times the level in 2007. The total number of public education jobs fell in 2009 for the first time since 1984, according to the BLS. Declining state revenues, which result from the country’s economic turmoil and high unemployment, only increase the probability of more large-scale teacher layoffs ahead, said Marguerite Roza, a professor at the University of Washington’s College of Education.
“We would expect that education jobs will be hit harder in 2010,” Ms. Roza said. “Given last year’s layoff trends, we should expect even more layoffs this year.”
Parents in some school districts are beginning to organize over the issue. In Seattle last year, parents started asking, “Why is my great teacher being laid off while this teacher, who everybody knows is not a good teacher, doesn’t get laid off?” said Venus Velazquez, a parent who said she is one of dozens attempting to remove the seniority protection from the next teacher contract. “We don’t want to go back to the ’50s or ’60s, when people were laid off because of the color of their skin or because a woman was pregnant,” said Glenn Bafia, executive director of the Seattle Education Association, a teachers union.
Mr. Bafia said poor-performing Seattle teachers need to be encouraged to leave teaching through an administrative process. “That’s the principal’s responsibility. If the principal refuses to do their job, that’s an issue,” he said. When it comes to layoffs, “seniority is the only objective criteria there is out there.”
For the unions, the pushback is in some cases coming from people who consider themselves liberal and pro-union. “I consider myself a union supporter, but I don’t support the seniority system,” said Lynnell Mickelsen of Minneapolis, who is organizing a community group to oppose the main use of seniority in layoffs. In a shrinking school system, which has resulted in the loss of 1,300 teacher jobs since 2001, “terrific teachers have been laid off, and [some of those remaining] are depressingly, relentlessly mediocre,” Ms. Mickelsen said. “People are so frustrated about this.”
Lynn Nordgren, president of the Minneapolis teachers union, said the union and the system already work together to remove ineffective teachers, pushing out between 400 and 500 teachers in the past 10 years. With poorly performing teachers already being addressed, “seniority gives us a fair way of saying how do we lay people off in a way that’s equitable,” she explained.
Ms. Mickelsen isn’t buying it: “When it comes to key contract clauses like seniority, the needs of teachers and kids are not the same.”