How does Seniority Play into Budget Cuts?

This article was written by Journalism student Elise O’Brien.

 

After the original school budget was voted down, everyone’s mind was on cuts.  These cuts include positions, funding, parts of courses, etc.  This caused a lot of confusion around what would be cut, who would be cut, and how they would decide.  One thing that not everyone fully understands is cuts based on seniority.  A lot of people don’t know the full reasoning behind it.

 

The head of the math department, Drew Junkins, brings up one reason: if someone has been in the same place for a long time, chances are they have family in the area.  “They might have to relocate and it could prove some financial hardship,” said Drew.

 

Some teachers that have strong bonds with students may end up being cut, which has struck a chord among students.  These emails have been talked about in detail in the Chronicle article titled, “Student Email and IT Situation.”

 

9th grade student Sophie Young in the library.

 

Sophie Young, a 9th grade student at U-32, has issues with cuts based on seniority.  She argues that it is unfair for seniority to be a factor because a lot of the teachers that students love are younger.  “If a teacher is new but they’re really liked, then they should definitely stay,” said Sophie.

 

Sophie thinks that cuts should be based on job performance. She said, “I would have someone sit in a class and see how the teachers are teaching and how the students are responding.”

 

“It’s our teachers. It’s the people that we’re learning from.  If you fire the good ones, then no one’s going to have fun learning,” said Sophie.  She also thinks student input should be a big factor, though she acknowledges that it can’t be solely based on that.

 

9th grade student Kathryn Stauffer in her Strings class.

 

Kathryn Stauffer, a 9th grade student at U-32, agrees with Sophie.  “I think that they should take student surveys.  Anonymous surveys, and actually think about them, because it’s important,” said Kathryn.

 

Kara Rosenberg is the Teaches Union Chief Negotiator for teacher’s current 3-year contracts.  One of their big discussions this year was around seniority and the language about it on their contracts.   Jenn Ingersoll, another representative for the Teachers Union, was also a big part of the discussion.

 

According to Kara, when negotiating a contract, the first step is the teachers union deciding what they want to prioritize when revising.  They then need to sit down with the school board and discuss until they come to a conclusion.  There are plenty more little details that go on, but that is the basic overview.

 

Kara Rosenberg in her classroom during callback.

 

According to Jen, everyone was in agreement when deciding what to revise.  One change was the language around seniority on their contracts.  They wanted to make the language more clear.

 

Making it more clear will benefit both the teachers and the school board.  “The nice thing about a contract is if it’s well written, it just tells people what to do.  Then you don’t get into too much conflict because you’ve already had that negotiation about what’s fair for the most people,” said Kara.

 

The process of revision can take a while.  “We just go back and forth and discuss possibilities.  Every side kind of brings their own possibilities, and we go back and forth until we can come to agreement on what some revised language might look like,” said Kara.

 

  “Our seniority language in our last contract was pretty vague. It hadn’t really been a problem in a long time because there hadn’t been any riffs or what we call reductions in force,” said Kara.  The language surrounding seniority on teachers contracts is especially important during the current budget cuts.

 

These reductions are what pushed them to pay more attention to that language in this round of negotiations.  “Both the union and the board looked at lots of different languages, different contracts, and then took what we thought was fair,” said Kara.

 

To make their decision on what was best, they put the proposed text in side by side charts and compared.  They then went through and discussed what was best.  When deciding, they took into account the constituents they represent and what is best for the district as a whole.

 

The negotiators from U-32 who met with the school board were Kara Rosenberg, Jenn Ingersoll, Chris Williams, and Elizabeth Marks.  There was also representation from the elementary schools.

 

Eventually, they made a decision they thought was fair.  “I think it was one of the more productive discussions that we had.  It was a really collaborative discussion because we were both more or less on the same page,” said Kara.

 

Jenn agrees that the conversation went very well.   “We went through and discussed whether it was feasible.  We talked about, you know, Is it doable?” said Jenn.

 

Unfortunately, the reality that we are facing is that there will have to be layoffs.  When discussing the contracts, everyone had to keep this in mind.  “It’s really hard when people are laid off, and both sides really just wanted it to be fair and for it to be clear,” said Kara.

 

She acknowledged that there are pros and cons to seniority based cuts.  One example she brings up is that you can lose young talented teachers.  “That happens. And I know that people feel really strongly about that,” said Kara.

 

Another con she mentions is the loss of new ideas.  “Sometimes, newer teachers are the people who have really great ideas that they’re infusing into your school system,” said Kara.

 

However, Kara thinks that if you decide based too much on who is liked, it will turn into a popularity contest.  “Suddenly it’s like, well this teacher is really popular, we’re gonna save their job.  Why they’re popular and for whom they’re popular is really subjective,” said Kara.

 

Drew agrees with her.  “I would say every teacher has some students that are in their corner, you know?  They’re like, oh, that’s my teacher I have a good connection with, so who’s to say?”

 

There are a lot of variables that go into cuts based on opinions and other systems of measurement.  “When you’re thinking about a contract, you really can’t write a contract for individuals.  You’re writing a contract for a system,” said Kara.

 

In her opinion, seniority based cuts are a good idea.  “I mean I think that that’s really the only fair way to do it,” said Kara.

 

Seniority is not subjective.  If they were to cut based on other measures, they would have to try to get an accurate picture of the person as a whole.  That is hard when everyone has individual opinions.

 

“If it was performance based or based on reviews of some kind, all of that would be really subjective as to who chimes in.  That, fundamentally, is not a fair system,” said Kara.

 

In the end, the goal of these revisions and the use of seniority in cuts is meant to benefit the school and support the teachers they can.  “We know that there are a lot of changes that are coming for our district.  We wanted to be sure that we were protecting our teachers as much as possible and also making it clear what tenure in our district meant for teachers and their subs in their content areas,” said Jenn.

 

Regardless of the way it is done, cuts and layoffs never feel good to the community it impacts.  “It’s really, really hard and sad for a community when people have to be laid off. Because we lose really valuable people who we would like to be in our community,” said Kara.

 

Opinions on seniority being a factor in cuts remains a discussed topic, but administrators, board members, and everyone else in the budget process will continue to do their best to choose what’s right for U-32.

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