Teacher Trendline

June 2017: Layoffs

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Welcome to the Teacher Trendline, NCTQ's monthly newsletter on teaching issues designed for school district officials (subscribe here). Each month we use data from NCTQ's Teacher Contract Database to highlight the latest trends in school district policies and collective bargaining agreements nationwide by tracking policies in the 100 largest districts in the country and the largest district in each state, for a total sample of 124 districts. We'd love your feedback--write to teachertrendline@nctq.org.

No district ever wants to lay off teachers, but every district finds itself having to lay off teachers from time to time. Districts often establish fairly detailed policies to determine which teachers will need to be let go within confines set by the layoff laws in their state. Minnesota recently changed its law to eliminate the last-in, first out (LIFO) rule for laying off teachers, and we'll be keeping an eye on whether this results in changes at the district-level.

In light of this change in the layoff landscape, this month we examine how districts around the country handle teacher layoffs and which teachers are the first to go when districts face budget crises. Using our Teacher Contract Database, we take a look at layoff policies in 124 of the largest school districts in the country.

Layoff Criteria

Gone are the days when all layoffs were decided solely on the basis of seniority --at least in these larger districts. In 40 percent of the 124 districts in our sample, performance evaluations are now the top factor in deciding who goes when budgets shrink or programs are cut. Performance is an important factor in an additional 17 percent of these districts. 

Some districts base decisions on a combination of performance and seniority. For example, Manchester School District (NH) first lays off teachers who are on a "Performance Improvement Plan," and then lays off all remaining teachers in order of their seniority.

In Chicago Public Schools, layoffs occur in this order:

  1. All teachers, including those with tenure, who have earned the rating of "unsatisfactory,"
  2. Probationary teachers based on their performance,
  3. Remaining tenured teachers rated "emerging" and "developing" by their seniority,
  4. All other tenured teachers by seniority.

In other cases, districts take into account additional criteria. For example, Clark County School District (NV) first lays off teachers who have been suspended for more than five days in the last two years by their seniority. Dallas Independent School District, after considering performance evaluations, also considers factors such as participation in professional development, attendance, teacher leadership, and other measures of teacher quality outside of their evaluation.

Granite School District (UT) is the only district in our database that uses neither performance nor seniority in its layoff decisions, but rather an unusual assortment of other factors, such as teachers' endorsements (e.g. endorsements in ESL or gifted education), their fluency in foreign languages, or their coaching or extracurricular contributions.

Some districts use a point system. Teachers in Mesa Public Schools (AZ) each have profiles with their performance evaluations counting for 76 percent, professional conduct for 20 percent, and educational qualifications/certification for 4 percent. Teachers with the lowest number of points are laid off first.

Tenure

Is tenure as important as it once was when deciding whom to lay off? Traditionally, teacher tenure rules require that school districts lay off non-tenured teachers before cutting tenured teaching positions. That long tradition effectively forced districts to make seniority the most important factor in layoff decisions, as teachers often earn tenure in three years or less. As our analysis shows, only 40 percent of districts still require that non-tenured teachers be laid off before tenured peers in areas targeted for a reduction in force.

Let's break this down to understand the role tenure plays in districts: 

About half of districts where there is tenure require non-tenured teachers to be laid off first and, as expected, most of those districts lay off non-tenured teachers in order of their seniority--not their performance. Interestingly, there are five districts that lay off non-tenured teachers first, but where those young teachers are concerned, performance is used to decide which ones must go first. For example, Montgomery County Public Schools (MD) weights seniority and performance equally in determining which non-tenured teachers are laid off first. Bismarck Public Schools lays off non-tenured teachers solely by performance (but then lays off tenured teachers in order of their seniority).

What about districts in the states that no longer award tenure, including Florida, Kansas, and North Carolina? Do districts in these states prioritize seniority or effectiveness when laying off teachers? 

In most districts where tenure is no longer awarded (usually due to state policy), seniority --effectively a proxy for tenure-- remains an important factor.

For instance, Wichita Public Schools (KS) first lays off teachers on Plans of Assistance (those with more than three years of experience who are struggling), followed by "new teachers" (in their first three years of teaching), followed by teachers with four or more years in the district.

While North Carolina eliminated tenure in 2013, teachers who were already tenured have been allowed to maintain their status. Only one North Carolina district in the five that we track in that state, Guilford County Schools, still requires that non-tenured teachers be laid off before any tenured teachers.

In Florida, state law requires that districts lay off teachers by performance, but collective bargaining agreements across the state do not always reflect state policy. Many districts (such as the School District of Lee County and Polk County Public Schools) lay off annual contract teachers (hired after 2011) before professional and continuing contract teachers (hired before 2011). Within each of these contract bands, districts lay off teachers based on performance.

Conclusion

Traditionally districts used LIFO to determine which teachers were laid off first. Our data show that this is no longer the case in the majority of districts. While 40 percent of districts still use only seniority to decide layoffs, the remaining districts use a variety of measures, such as performance evaluations and teachers' additional contributions to the district. Due to the infrequency of large-scale layoffs these days, districts such as the Florida districts cited above, are not necessarily reevaluating their reduction in force policies to ensure that they best fit the evolving needs of the district or current state law. Clarity is important in such high stakes decisions, and so district leaders would do well to think carefully about their layoff policies before a reduction-in-force becomes necessary.

To see more details on these and other district policies, visit the Teacher Contract Database.

The Teacher Contract Database includes information on 147 school districts and 2 charter management organizations in the United States including: the 100 largest districts in the country, the largest district in each state, and the member districts of the Council of Great City Schools. The database features answers to over 100 policy questions and provides access to teacher contracts, salary schedules, and board policies in addition to relevant state laws governing teachers.