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Layoff Announcements Predictable Consequence of Pandemic… Will Federal Government Save the Day?

June 10, 2020

This news report from Boston’s NBC affiliate is a precursor to lots of other news reports that will be happening across the country… news reports that need to be taken seriously even if they are based on worst case scenarios. As the TV News reports in its inimitable bullet style:

As school officials try to sort through things like the regulations of class size and cleaning protocols when it comes to reopening their schools, teachers in some communities are now getting laid off.

“It’s the wrong move at this time,” Massachusetts Teachers Association President Merrie Najimy said. “A massive wave of laying off educators is going to be devastating to public education.”

With several school districts across the commonwealth beginning to issue pink slips or announce a “reduction in force” for dozens, if not hundreds of teachers per district – Najimy is calling on the state and federal government to step up.

The backdrop to this, which is subsequently touched on, is the practical reality that school districts need to issue Reduction in Force (RIF) letters to teachers by a date certain, a date that is often issued early enough to allow RIFFED teacher to find work elsewhere. In times of economic hardship, though, the list is often much longer than the realistic number because if a RIF letter is NOT received the district may well be on the hook to pay the compensation of a teacher even if they are not assigned to a classroom. I know from my experience having lived through three economic downturns as a Superintendent that it was often necessary to send at least 50% more letters than I believed I’d need to use to make certain that I was being prudent. Some of my colleagues, who were interested in being completely failsafe, issued RIF letters to every teacher, a tactic that often backfired and eroded their long term credibility.

Over the past three months there have been countless times when I counted my blessings that I was no longer working as a Superintendent… especially now when its necessary to plan for re-opening schools with no clear picture of the fiscal and health landscape for September. Given this unprecedented uncertainty, it might be a good time to educate the public on the impact it is having on school leaders, who will likely be second guessed no matter what they do.

There is one fact that is abundantly clear, though: unless the Federal Government enacts legislation that provides additional funding earmarked specifically for public education the RIF letters this time around will reflect the worst case scenarios because State and local tax bases are withering.

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