LD 275: Teacher RIF, not Firing

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.

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4 Comments

Filed under Collective Bargaining, Education in Maine

4 responses to “LD 275: Teacher RIF, not Firing

  1. This was posted in my “about” section, but since it was actually in response to this piece, I am copying it to here:

    ==================
    Hello Nancy,

    I have read your blog about RIF procedures “Teacher RIF, not firing” and I have found myself in this position this summer. The fact that the school board decided to cut my position the end of July is frustrating enough, but now the superintendent has let me know that I have to work until the last day of the 90 days notice(until the end of October). Although my program has been cut entirely, she wants me to do different things with our special needs students. I was hired as an Industrial arts teacher and has taught this subject successfully for the last 5 years. She also told me that whenever the principal needed me for subbing or manning the library, I have to do that too. My question is: am I officially employed until the 90 days notice is over? Or does my employment end August, 31? Do I have to work for this school district for the first two months of the school year as a teacher’s aid? What if I find a new employer for the next school year? Does the district still have to pay the 90 days notice salary?

    Sincerely,

    Nienke

  2. Nienke –

    This is a completely unofficial response since I not longer do this work; I would suggest you contact your local MEA office, or their General Counsel in Augusta, for a more formal answer.

    That caveat being made, please remember that slavery was outlawed a very long time ago. No one can legally force you to work for them.

    In this situation, since the district had to provide you with 90 days notice of a RIF, they must also provide you with the work that would have been available within that 90-day period at the appropriate salary. You, on the other hand, are not required to stick around if you find something else.

    There may, of course, be consequences to leaving early. The biggest problem tends to be not being able to sign a new contract in a new school system because you are technically still employed in the first. In that case, talk to the current superintendent; s/he may be more than happy to have you leave and save a few days’ salary.

  3. GF

    What if a contract is signed and begins on August 1st, even though the actual work days only begin August 15? Is the 90 days notice effective from the first day of work or from what the contract states as the beginning of a school year?

    • There are two contracts that apply: the collective bargaining agreement and the individual teacher’s employment agreement. There may be RIF notification language in the CBA; if so, that language applies. However, the typical situation is that there is only the stautory language in play: at least 90 [calendar] days’ notification prior to elimination of the position. Any teacher anywhere in Maine can be RIFd with only 90 days’ notice at any point in the year.

      In the situation as I understand your question above is presented backwards; the 90 days’ notice is not retroactive, but prospective. If the notice is given on May 1, the position ends on August 1. Because the school year ended in June, the teacher is still owed whatever salary is left from the previous school year, but no more.

      If the notice is given on August 1, the position ends on November 1. The school system can simply pay off the teacher, but seldom does. More commonly, the teacher is expected to work – and the district to pay – until the end date (see above).

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