Friday, March 4, 2011

Seniority-Based Layoffs

And once again, a reminder: This is my personal blog. It does not reflect the views of the Board as a whole. It's a place for me to share what's on my mind, and to spark discussion with stakeholders. Don't confuse this with official Board action.

One question that has come up several times for me recently as I talk with community members is the sequence in which we issue layoff notices. In particular, people have expressed concern with the fact that teachers receive notice in the reverse order in which they were hired (Last in, First Out). Once again, this is a matter of State law. California Civil Code requires that we use last in, first out unless we reach a different agreement through collective bargaining with our employees. If we do not reach a different agreement, last in, first out is the process we must use.

Some folks might grab onto that phrase "unless we reach a different arrangement through collective bargaining." While this possibility exists, it is a bargainable item, and one that is not easy to overcome. Recently some school districts across the country have made headway on this, but it is something that requires a long negotiating process.

The San Jose Mercury News published an article on March 1, entitled "San Jose City Council votes to study idea of including job performance as layoff factor" The City manager explained to the council that, while it's worth studying, it won't be possible to do anything for the round of layoffs the city is currently facing. It's a long process, and government entities (like school boards and city councils) can't make radical shifts on our own.

There are a couple of key ideas I'd like to put out there to consider:

1) Just because we can't do this immediately doesn't mean we shouldn't consider it. I'd love to know that this is the last time we'll ever issue a pink slip, but it probably isn't. It would be nice if, at a future layoff, we could include performance evaluations as one part of the process.

2) Making this change would up the stakes of employee evaluations. We have recently redesigned our evaluation process, and in doing so I believe we have made it more professional and fairer to both the employee and the district. This was not a simple thing, but it was positive outcome of the last contract.

3) Teachers frequently express concern about including evaluations or other criteria in the process. Most often, I hear things like "what if I have a really bad principal?", or "what if I have a bad year?" It is important to remember that I'm suggesting that evaluations be ONE factor in the process, not the ENTIRE basis for the discussion. To the comment about a "bad principal", I wonder, "why would you want to stay working for a bad principal?" Most, if not everyone, in the private sector has worked for a bad boss. The response for most of us is to seek out a position with a better employer. Seeking refuge from dismissal would only prolong contact with someone the employee has already said they don't want to work with.

My point in posting this isn't to "stir the pot". I've expressed my thoughts on this to our negotiating team, but there are a lot of things that we need to address. This may or may not make the cut this time around. I also post this because I think it's important to both our teachers and to the community to know that it's on everyone's radar. As I said, this is not a simple change, but it's something worth considering.

As always, thoughtful comments (or personal emails) are welcome.

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