Layoffs are expected in times of recession, but several school districts have taken the unpalatable step earlier than might have been expected, already facing large deficits due to declining enrollments and plain bad accounting.
Dallas, the largest of the troubled districts, let go 375 teachers in October after unearthing an $84 million deficit caused by years of accounting and budgeting errors. The district then handled the layoffs with extraordinary clumsiness, making affected teachers and their unions even angrier. Some teachers are claiming that they were victims of retaliation. Others reported that many layoffs were accomplished in a less-than-professional manner. According to one teacher, he was called out of class, fired, and sent back to class to pack up his belongings in front of his students.
A close reading of the fine print, however, may explain why so many teachers were particularly bent out of shape. It wasn't the same old story in Dallas with the least senior tenured teachers going first. School board policy allows the district to target tenured teachers who have one or more areas "below expectations" on their performance evaluations. After laying off probationary teachers, the district let go teachers with performance problems, about a quarter of the total number. A teacher's seniority in the school system was only used as a third criterion after the others were taken into account. Smart policy but better manners were in order.