Layoffs and rehiring: a disruptive process


Job security is important to any worker. But job security is precisely what some teachers don’t have.

The process in which some school districts lay off teachers in the spring then rehire them in the fall is disruptive and unsettling, teachers say. School administrators say it is unfortunate but necessary.

The process works like this: Faced with uncertain budget and enrollment numbers, schools will send pink slips to teachers in April and May. The slips go to the newest teachers –“last in, first out.” As the budget and enrollment numbers become clear, teachers are hired back. Some are hired as late as several days before the first day of classes.

Kevin Pearson is an elementary education teacher in Fergus Falls. He has been laid off each of the nine years he has been teaching. “Some years I was pretty sure I was going to be hired back, and others I didn’t know until late August,” he said.

Elizabeth Abrahams also teaches in Fergus Falls. She has been cut eight times in nine years. “It’s a roller coaster ride. I hate spring. When I get called to the principal’s office, I can repeat the speech to him, I’ve heard it so many times,” she said.

Four school administrators say the problem is money, which is fueled by an uncertain state budget and changing enrollment. They said cuts are sometimes made in anticipation of increases in teacher contracts. They said a last minute scramble for teachers is sometimes caused by late personnel changes. They admitted that sometimes cuts are made to fire an underperforming teacher without a confrontation.

These administrators, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the budgeting process never ends. Budget and enrollment projections begin in September and October. The school board becomes involved in January with an initial proposal from the administration to cut programs and staff.

“This can set off a ripple of fear through the faculty and community,” one administrator said. “We’re not sure we’re going to lay anyone off, but it starts the process for future decisions.”

Then the administration develops budget and enrollment projections. Personnel decisions are made between March and June. Layoff notices must be made early enough to allow for a hearing if requested by a tenured teacher.

Budgets are finalized by June 30. In odd numbered years, the legislature often doesn’t approve an education budget until the last moments of the session in late May. It takes about a week for the Department of Education to determine the impact of the bill and it is often weeks before final finance reports are available. “I have always assumed that the number of layoff/rehires is greater in odd number years than even number years for this reason,” one administrator said.

Layoffs can also be affected by teacher contract negotiations. Contracts end on June 30 and “many layoffs are insurance for the cost of the package,” one administrator said.

In small districts, open enrollment and move-ins affect the number of teachers on staff. A swing of as few as six students can mean hiring a new teacher. These enrollment numbers aren’t available until mid-August, making districts scramble for teachers. One administrator said that if there is no teacher on the layoff list, then the district hires the first teacher “off the street” to fill the position.

One administrator said the biggest culprit is declining enrollment. “You predict your enrollment, then decide your student-to-teacher ratio, then take the teachers with the most seniority and cut the rest. Enrollment projections are usually a well-educated guess, but you really don’t know until enrollment is set on Oct. 1.”

Although he has no evidence, one administrator suspects the layoff process “is sometimes used to get rid of a teacher rather than confronting the teacher. You can draw your own conclusions as to whether this might be a common occurrence.”

Retirement and retention are also a factor. If a teacher doesn’t inform administration of a new job or retirement until late in the summer, administration has to scramble to find a replacement, often calling back a laid off teacher in August.

None of this is consolation to teachers caught in the middle. Pearson in Fergus Falls said that even with nine years of experience, he is still low man on the totem pole because so many teachers have been cut from the district. “Ten years of work means nothing right now.”

Declining enrollment makes money tight in Fergus Falls. Pearson finds the prospect of being laid off good and being rehired to be “scarier than most years.” He said that for the first time, he’s considering sending his application to other districts or looking for work outside teaching.

Abrahams said she used to send out resumes, but she now has a two-year-old child and would prefer not to move for a new job.

She said she is frustrated by the situation.

“I think that St. Paul has to fix the problem,” she said. “We need to change the way we finance education in Minnesota. Taxpayers don’t want to pay for education. We can see why they’re grumbling; we’re in the same boat too. Something’s got to change.”

Minnesota 2020 put out the call for teachers to share their stories. Here are some of the responses:

I have been teaching Spanish for six years, and I have been cut or had cuts threatened every year. Last year was the worst; I was up for tenure so the district capped the number of students who could take Spanish 1 so there would only be one section. Therefore, there were not enough students for a full time teacher so my job was reduced to part time, and they used this as an excuse to advertise my job. I was told I would have to reapply and re-interview although I have never had a bad evaluation. Then, when there were no applicants by the end of spring, I was rehired with no interview at part time. In July, I was offered the opportunity to teach one English class on a variance to make my job full time.

This was a very difficult time for me, worrying about the high cost of health care and health insurance and having my job and insurance cut. It is also difficult to come to a job each day not knowing if you will be back or not the next year.

I feel we are treated not as people but as dollar signs. I feel this practice of cutting and rehiring keeps some of the best teachers away from the profession. Although I love teaching and working with high school students, each year I question my decision to stay in education because of the emotional distress that possibly losing my job each year causes.

I have been teaching in Minneapolis for six years. I have been at four different schools and had seven different principals. At each school, I have been laid off and then rehired late in August — quite often at a different position. It is really hard packing up every year and taking things out of a building not knowing where you will be next year, if anywhere. In addition, it would be nice to teach the same curriculum for more than one year and not have to start from scratch.

I am an Adult Basic Ed. ELL teacher and have been for more than 20 years. I was laid off late last spring. I had hoped to be called back, but wasn’t. I was one of three teachers laid off from a terrific team of teachers. It made for a rough summer, though, and my two colleagues — extremely talented and dedicated teachers — have found positions elsewhere. A terrible loss to our program. Thankfully, my spouse had a stable job so we didn’t fear losing our home. I can’t imagine how hard it must be for those who have only one income.

I am a twenty-two year veteran of vocal music teaching and have had my position reduced or cut only to have it reinstated on seven different occasions. The first couple of times were so upsetting. I have come to the conclusion that the cut probably won’t occur because I am “prep time” for teachers and cutting me means the district would have to spend money to replace me.

I have been teaching since 1996. I received a pink slip each of my first five years. One year, I was rehired the first day of school. Another year, I was rehired Aug. 2. That year I had to get out of a contract with another district to take the job here. It was my fourth year and to receive a continuing contract I had no choice. I was lucky the other district let me out of my contract without any penalty.

It is very difficult to go through this process year after year. I never felt I could buy a home or get my masters degree due to my situation. We have lost many VERY good young teachers because of being pink slipped and needing to find a job elsewhere.

This process of firing in May and rehiring in August happened to me three times, and I know it has happened to thousands of other teachers. It didn’t matter what you did in the district as far as coaching or advising or how much you went out of your way to better students academically, all that mattered was that you were the lowest person on the seniority list. Arguably the worst thing about being rehired was that often it would be in a different subject area, forcing teachers to start over with a new curriculum on sometimes only a day or two of notice. I am not sure how anyone can argue that this practice does not affect students negatively.

I was put on unrequested leave this past spring after four years with the school district. I was told I would be rehired in the fall, but I didn’t have anything in writing. Since I’m single and had no guarantees from the district, I felt I had no choice but to apply for positions with other districts. This was difficult because I have a few years of experience behind me, and though I was a finalist many times, less experienced teachers were chosen over me. After seven interviews, I was offered a position as a high school English teacher. With no signed contract from my first district, I accepted the position. I wasn’t given credit for all my years of experience. I like the job and the students here but it was a stressful summer and I miss my former students. I worry about the possibility of layoffs in the future. I will be even more experienced and well-educated than before (probably not hirable.)

I was laid off three years in a row. I was hired back before the end of the school year. It was demoralizing and scary for my wife and me, but it was just part of the business I chose to be in. One friend of mine was laid off seven years in a row and sometimes not rehired until August. She is a brilliant teacher and finally had enough and went to teach at a private school, where she is happy even though she makes quite a bit less. The loss is ours.