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SB 5 or No, Seniority is Out of Teacher Layoff Decisions

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Tuesday, March 20, 2012 at 10:14 AM

V. Becker / Flickr

During the campaign over collective bargaining law Senate Bill 5, polls foretold the law's eventual repeal by voters. But even as nearly 60 percent of voters said they didn't like SB 5, a sizable minority of Ohioans -- around 40 percent -- said they liked one part of it: The idea of eliminating seniority as the sole factor in layoffs.

SB 5 was repealed, but a law reducing the role of seniority in teacher layoffs stayed. The state budget bill enacted in June says school districts can't give teachers seniority preference in layoffs or rehirings.

And now a new national survey of about 10,000 preK-12 teachers funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation finds that 40 percent has company: About three-quarters of teachers surveyed said that seniority shouldn't be the only factor in layoffs.

Views on the importance of seniority varied depending on how long teachers had been in the classroom. Teachers with more than 20 years of experience were about three times more likely to say that seniority should be the most important factor in layoff decisions than teachers with fewer years on the job.

The National Council on Teacher Quality summarizes the pros and cons of basing layoff decisions on seniority like this:

Proponents of basing teacher layoffs on seniority alone say the process is more objective and thus fairer. No judgment or discretion is needed. Seniority-based layoffs also protect those who have invested the most time in a school district, rewarding teachers for their loyalty, and are sensitive to employees who may find it difficult to find a new job late in their careers...

A conclusive body of research finds that teachers in their third year of teaching are generally about as effective as long-tenured teachers. Furthermore, seniority-based layoffs lead to more jobs lost. Newer teachers cost less than more senior ones, which means that districts have to lay off a larger number of newer teachers to fill budget holes. Accordingly, classroom sizes must increase... In addition, seniority-based layoffs may cut into hard-won diversity in the teacher corps.

What Role Does Seniority Play in Layoffs Now?

Until recently, in most Ohio school districts, tenure was the first factor administrators used in deciding who got laid off (that's after looking at how many teachers were need at each grade level and subject area). Teachers without tenure were the first to go. Then seniority came into play, with less experienced teachers being the first to go.

That changed last year. A provision in the 2011 state budget lets school districts give preference to tenured teachers in determining who gets laid off first. But districts with collective bargaining agreements signed after September 2011 can't give teachers seniority preference in layoffs or rehirings. Now, the only way seniority can come into play is if a district is deciding between two teachers with identical performance evaluations.

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