Based on recent events, school districts might benefit from a crash course in planning and public relations. We reported last month that Dallas had handled its recent teacher layoffs poorly,riling teachers and causing unnecessary disruption. (See here.) Now Rio Rancho Public Schools, New Mexico's third largest district, takes the prize for making a mess out of its reshuffling of staff during a budget crisis.
To the school district's credit, it sent out a lengthy letter in September detailing the causes of its budget shortfall and the solutions it was laying on the table,such as reducing spending in the form of supplies, travel and utilities. But when that didn't shore up the gaps, the district then announced (in a span of only three days) two fairly draconian moves. First, the district stopped hiring substitute teachers, asking existing staff, including administrators, to serve as subs instead. Second, it offered tenured teachers the option of taking unpaid leave for the whole of the second semester. Any teacher choosing to take such a leave would be guaranteed a job for the 2009-2010 school year (though they'd have to give up medical benefits until then); teachers not taking the district up on its offer would run the risk of losing their jobs should further layoffs be required.
That bit of news started a groundswell of panic from teachers who couldn't figure out how the district could offer such a deal, with apparently little to no regard for who would be left in the classroom to teach students. For its part,the union claimed it was blindsided by the offer. After setting up a rumor hotline to quell the uprising, the district back pedaled a bit, announcing that it will only grant leaves to teachers whose absences "will not adversely affect classroom instruction," though who such teachers may be no one has figured out.
Advice to districts: think it all through before going public.