WI School District Proposes Layoffs Based on Qualifications, Not Seniority

A Wisconsin teachers’ union is “shocked” by the Madison School District’s proposal to base layoffs on qualifications, not seniority, reports the Wisconsin State Journal.

The Madison School District administration is recommending that whenever staff and teachers must be laid off, qualifications and not seniority will decide who gets let go.

The proposal suggests layoffs take into account a staffer’s qualifications, such as certifications, scores on a state-mandated teacher evaluation, training and cultural competency, and not the time someone has been working for the School District.

The suggested revision was among a slate of proposed changes to the employee handbook district administrators presented Monday to the Madison School Board during its Instruction Work Group meeting.

The district’s teachers’ union, Madison Teachers Inc., sent a letter to Interim Superintendent Jane Belmore and the school board saying union members were “shocked” to see the recommendations.

As in any profession, some teachers are better than others. And a good teacher is worth his or her weight in gold. Experience is important, but it alone does not guarantee success.

Consider a new teacher who is only a couple of years in but has already shown great progress with his or her students, compared to the teacher in the classroom next door who has been teaching longer but is just going through the motions. Teacher layoffs based on seniority would cause the new teacher to be ousted and the ineffective teacher to remain. Research has shown that the long assumed belief that a seniority system produces the best results for children has proven not to be, on average, true.

Critics of an alternative layoff system argue that educators with higher salaries will be targeted, as they are more expensive to keep on staff and give the district an incentive to remove them for the cost savings alone. But seniority-based layoffs lead to more jobs lost, according to research by the National Council on Teacher Quality. Because least experienced teachers are paid less, more dismissals would be required to fill budget holes, and class sizes would increase.

Additionally, more dismissals would add to the teacher shortage concerns, and could also “cut into hard-won diversity in the teacher corps,” NCTQ continues.

While layoffs are not welcome news for not only teachers but also schools and students, students’ needs should be the first priority considered in any employment decision—and including performance as at least part of the determining factor in layoffs helps with this. If seniority is the primary or exclusive determinant in layoffs, students’ needs are not kept front and center.