District Trendline

January 2016: Layoffs

See all posts

District Trendline, previously known as Teacher Trendline, provides actionable research to improve district personnel policies that will strengthen the teacher workforce. Want evidence-based guidance on policies and practices that will enhance your ability to recruit, develop, and retain great teachers delivered right to your inbox each month? Subscribe here.

The first Trendline of 2016 takes a fresh look at our most popular topic from 2015: layoffs.

In order to balance budgets in difficult economic times, districts may execute a reduction in force, more commonly referred to as layoffs. Generally, collective bargaining agreements contain specific details about this process, including: by what criteria the order of teacher layoffs is determined and whether and for how long teachers retain the right to be rehired by the district if positions again become available.

State policy is often a determining factor for districts when it comes to layoff criteria. Only 19 states leave layoff criteria up to districts' discretion, while others require districts to consider specific criteria such as performance (19 states) or seniority (10 states).


Teaching experience continues to be a driving force in layoffs for many districts. Forty-four percent of districts in the database (54 districts) use tenure status as a starting point for layoff decisions, requiring that non-tenured teachers be laid off before tenured teachers. While the majority of these districts (46) use seniority as the primary criterion to determine which non-tenured teachers get laid off, eight districts use other factors. In accordance with Ohio state law, four of these districts (Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbusand Dayton) lay off non-tenured teachers based on performance; Bismarck(ND) also has this requirement.

Over the past year, we've seen an increase in districts in the database that do not require non-tenured teachers to be laid off before tenured teachers. Forty-eight percent of districts in the database either do not require non-tenured teachers to be laid off first (49 districts) or do not have tenure (10 districts), up from 40 percent of districts in 2015. 

Of the ten districts where there is no tenure, nine are in Florida, a state that has essentially eliminated tenure. The tenth district that does not have tenure is Aspire Public Schools, a charter management organization. Four of the Florida districts (Duval County, Brevard County, Lee County and Polk County) continue to include clauses in their contracts that require teachers who are on annual contracts (all those hired after July 1, 2011) to be laid off before teachers who hold professional or continuing contracts. 

In place of a specified policy, Birmingham leaves the decision of how layoffs are conducted up to the Board of Education. Should layoffs be necessary, the Board will announce the criteria on which layoffs are based, which can include a variety of objective criteria such as seniority, performance and certification.

Performance and Seniority

In addition to tenure status, the decision of whom to layoff is generally decided either by performance or seniority. Across the database, 54 districts use performance as the primary criterion for determining the order of layoffs, up from 47 districts just last year. This is primarily driven by state requirements. The vast majority (89%) of the 54 districts that use performance as the primary criterion are located in one of the 19 states that require districts to consider performance in determining layoffs. Aspire Public Schools[1],Mesa(AZ), District of Columbia[2],West Ada,Jackson(MS),and Wake County(NC) all use performance in determining layoff order even though they are located in states that do not require it.

Seniority is the second most common criterion used to determine layoffs, with 46 districts using seniority as the primary criterion for reductions in force. Many of these districts operate under what is called a "last in, first out" policy, where seniority is the sole criterion. In all of these districts, non-tenured teachers are laid off before tenured teachers and, if needed, tenured teachers are laid off in order of seniority. The majority of these districts are in states that either require seniority to be considered or leave layoff criteria decisions to district discretion.

Eleven districts use multiple criteria that include performance and seniority to determine layoffs, while two districts—those categorized as "Unspecified" in the graph above—leave layoff criteria up to either the school board (Birmingham) or the superintendent (Charleston County, SC).

A few districts have distinct layoff policies. In Wichita and Manchester(NH), all teachers on either a Plan of Assistance or Performance Improvement Plan are laid off first with the rest of the layoffs determined by seniority. Clark County requires any teachers suspended for more than five days within the last two years to be laid off first, followed by any teachers with an unsatisfactory evaluation. Bismarck uses performance as the primary criterion for non-tenured teachers, but uses seniority if tenured teachers are affected by layoffs.

Recall rights

When teachers are laid off due to a reduction in force across a district, the contract or school board policy often requires that the district recall those teachers back to work once retirements and resignations have been taken into account and budgets are balanced.

The majority of districts in the database (91 districts) give laid-off teachers some form of recall rights. Of these districts, 54 of them recall teachers in the inverse order in which they were laid off. In 17 districts, only tenured teachers have such rights. In 19 districts, laid-off teachers receive a preference when new hiring begins, but are not guaranteed a new position.

There are six districts which explicitly make recall rights contingent upon teachers' evaluation ratings. In Denver, Detroit and Columbus, laid-off teachers are given preference in rehiring based on their evaluation rating. In Caddo Parish, Fairfax County (VA) and Norfolk, teachers who receive unsatisfactory evaluation ratings have no recall rights while all other teachers are recalled in inverse order of the layoffs. Also of note, Miami Dade gives recall rights to teachers in reverse order of layoffs with the exception of first year teachers who do not have recall rights.

Not included in the graph above is Green Dot Public Schools, a charter management organization. Green Dot does place teachers on a rehire list after layoffs, but the method by which teachers get rehired is unclear.

Generally, districts specify how long teachers retain recall rights after a layoff has occurred; 84 of the 91 districts that provide recall rights specify how long these rights last. The most common length of time teachers retain recall rights is two years, but it ranges from six months in Atlanta and Granite(UT) to indefinitely in Jefferson County (KY), St. Louis, Toledo, Pittsburgh, Nashville and Shelby

There are a handful of districts that differentiate recall rights based on a teacher's status. In Elgin, teachers with effective evaluation ratings retain recall rights for one year while teachers who have received a rating of Needs Improvement in the last two years only retain recall rights for six months. In Dayton, tenured teachers retain recall rights indefinitely while non-tenured teachers only retain recall rights for three years. In four California districts (Fresno, Long Beach, Oakland and Sacramento), tenured teachers retain recall rights for 3.25 years while non-tenured teachers retain these rights for two years.

Last year, we predicted that more districts would begin to use performance measures throughout the layoff process. This month's Trendline bears out that prediction: fewer districts in the database are requiring non-tenured teachers to be laid off first and more districts are using performance in their layoff decisions. 

[1] Aspire is a charter management organization, not a traditional school district.

[2] Although it is not a traditional state, the District of Columbia does have state-level policy that governs all school districts within the District of Columbia. The policies of this body are separate from the policies of the District of Columbia Public Schools.