Representative Lance Harvell of Farmington (R) has introduced a bill, LD 275, that would reduce the number of days’ notice – from the current 90 to 30 – a school board/committee is required to give teacher(s) if they are planning to cut position(s).
Why Rep. Harvell is proposing this change I do not know; whether or not it will get very far in the legislative process is also anyone’s guess. However, there are a few things you might want to know as background to the bill .
LD 275 is concerned only about those circumstances in which a school board/committee determines that there has been such a significant change in the school system’s situation during the school year that they must lay off staff. As proposed, the bill has nothing to do with firing a teacher.
The bill would make these changes to 20-A MRSA 13201:
The right to terminate a contract, after due notice of 90 30 days, is reserved to the school board when changes in local conditions warrant the elimination of the teaching position for which the contract was made. The order of layoff and recall shall be is a negotiable item in accordance with the procedures set forth in Title 26, chapter 9A , provided that in . In any negotiated agreement, the criteria negotiated by the school board and the bargaining agent to establish the order of layoff and recall may include, but shall may not be limited to, seniority.
[Note: underlined words are proposed additions; struck out words are proposed deletions]
It’s important to realize that every teacher in Maine makes a one-year contract (for a 180-day, sometimes a few days more, teaching year) with his/her employer (and vice versa) at the beginning of the school year (with one exception). Any break in that contract, therefore, requires notice.
By current statute, the school board/committee must give any teacher – with whom they have a one-year contract, remember – at least 90 (calendar) days’ notice IF they have to eliminate teaching positions (because of changes in local conditions). Typically, this process – known as Reduction in Force (RIF) – happens only if the school system runs out of money. That’s really unusual mid-year.
The much more common scenario is that the school board/committee foresees the need to eliminate positions as it is putting together the budget for the next school year. Since the school budget is developed in the spring, 90 days’ notice is relatively easy to manage. Assuming an August 15 start (common in Aroostook County high schools), notice would need to be given no later than May 15. For the more typical day-after-Labor-Day start, late May works.
It’s important to recognize that the required notice is anticipatory only. If a school board/committee believes it will need to lay off some staff, it can give proper notice and then not carry through with the RIF. There used to be some school systems that routinely handed out RIF notices to pretty much all staff and then withdrew them later.
OK, so how does this differ from firing a teacher?
Under Maine law [20-A MRSA 13202], the dismissal of a teacher can occur if the individual “proves unfit to teach or whose services the board deems unprofitable to the school”. As I’m sure you can guess, there’s significant case law about what this means and we can review it at another time.
Another school board/committee action closely related to dismissal is the non-renewal of a teacher’s continuing contract (sometimes referred to as “tenure”). Non-renewal is covered under the same statute as RIF [20-A MRSA 13201], but in a separate paragraph.
Both dismissal and non-renewal can also be negotiated about during collective bargaining. If the parties choose to do so, they can add additional protections beyond what the legal minimum; specifically, they can include “just cause” above and beyond the unfit/unprofitable standard (for dismissal) and for non-renewal generally (20-A MRSA 13201, 3rd paragraph). Again, there’s a lot of case law about what “just cause” means and we’ll get there some other day.
RIF can also be negotiated about, but only as to the process of laying off staff, not the decision to do so.
For the moment, what’s most important is understanding that the elimination of a position because a school system has a change in local conditions (usually financial) is quite different from a teacher being fired because s/he can’t or won’t do the job. Rep. Harvell’s proposal would cut the amount of notice a teacher gets if his/her position may be eliminated from 90 to 30 days. Why? I wish I knew.