Getting a layoff notice as a Warwick teacher may not be that bad; you may just be getting a bonus.
Teachers work about 185 days, from Sept. 1 to June 30 and are paid for that nine-month period, often choosing to receive paychecks bi-weekly. However, if a teacher receives a layoff notice in the spring and has not been called back by July 1, they are eligible to collect unemployment in July and August.
And the School Department will pick up the bill.
From a financial standpoint, the School Department is responsible for paying the laid off teachers unemployment and teachers do not have unemployment taken out of their check.
But Anthony Ferrucci, chief budget officer for Warwick Schools, explained that the department is prepared to pay.
“We budget $250,000 for unemployment,” said Ferrucci, adding that the budget is nowhere near the amount needed; the department tries to plan ahead. “For whoever gets laid off, the funds are there.”
Ferrucci also added that in theory, teachers should be paid during the school year, but most choose to be paid over the full calendar year.
“We owe them because they had worked through June,” said Ferrucci. “We are paying last year’s money in [August and July].”
Ferrucci said the bi-weekly method helps employees maintain personal budgets, as well as help with the city’s money flow.
According to Rosemary Healey, director of human resources for the Warwick School Department, 39 teachers were given lay off notices earlier this year and, as of Friday, 12 to 13 remained on layoff, waiting to hear if they would have a job come September. In total, Healey said 24 positions were eliminated.
“The numbers do not match because we recall teachers to other positions that have been vacated due to retirements and resignations but which still need to be filed,” said Healey.
That means at least 13 teachers could be collecting unemployment claims through the Rhode Island Department of Labor and Training (DOLT) while receiving their remaining paychecks from the 2012-2013 school year.
According to the DOLT’s website, those who claim unemployment are able to collect a weekly benefit rate equal to 4.38 percent of the wages paid to that individual during the highest two quarters of the base period.
The base period is defined by the DOLT as the first four of the past five completed calendar quarters. The DOLT has also set a minimum weekly benefit rate of $45 and a max of $566 for 2013.
In total, a person is allowed to collect 36 percent of the wages he or she received during that four-quarter base period. The number of weeks a person is allowed to collect is determined by dividing that amount by the weekly benefit rate.
According to DOLT, the average person is allowed to collect unemployment for 26 weeks.
A person is also allowed to file for dependency allowance for up to five dependents, defined as children under 18 or children with a handicap over 18. The allowance is limited to five dependents and equal to 5 percent of the weekly benefit rate for each dependent. The minimum allowance per dependent is $15.
Ferrucci said the amount needed to cover unemployment this year will be less than last year because in 2012, he said, the department was dealing with the layoffs of aids and bus drivers early in that year.
Ferrucci said teachers can collect until they receive a notice that they are rehired from the Warwick School Department, or they get another job.
“Once that happens, they are not eligible for unemployment,” he said.
Also, if Warwick Schools offers employment to a laid-off teacher and they decline the offer, they cannot qualify for unemployment.
As soon as Warwick Schools sends out the letter to rehire a laid-off teacher, Ferrucci explained that the school department would not need to pay any additional unemployment claims for that individual.
“That’s why a lot of times, we try to do it in June,” said Ferrucci about sending out callbacks. If not in June, Ferrucci said they aim for sometime in July.
Additionally, Healey explained some teachers who have been laid off are offered long-term and substitute part-time positions.
“They can collect the differential until they receive a full-time position,” said Healey, explaining another way Warwick can save money when it comes to unemployment.
Healey said the decision regarding which teachers receive layoff notices is not made by the human resources department, but by directors and the superintendent, with the approval of the School Committee.
She added that the decision is made after looking at things such as the needs of the district, student enrollment, the courses selected by students for the following year and how many students are at each grade level.
Since layoffs are determined in the spring, Healey said the announcement of teacher retirements is often a trigger of callbacks.
“We have retirements come in, so even though positions may have been eliminated, as retirements come in [teachers] have been called back,” said Healey.
Also, because layoffs are often determined through the need to consolidate, Healey said there were fewer lay-offs at the elementary school level this year.
“We have fewer elementary teachers on the layoff list because of previous consolidations. There were no direct cuts to take at the elementary level,” explained Healey.
Instead, the small number of elementary teachers on the layoff list is there to make room for teachers in the district who may teach in other areas but are double qualified to also teach at the elementary level.
Retirements have also lead to the majority of elementary teacher callbacks.
Although Education Commissioner Deborah Gist has said that layoffs and callbacks can no longer be determined by seniority, Healey said there is an exception in the law that allows Warwick to continue that process.
“If you take cuts due to declining enrollment, you are allowed to [determine layoffs] by seniority,” said Healey. “Callbacks can also be by seniority [in that case].”