It is teacher layoff notification time in Rhode Island – a legislatively imposed policy that rivals in its frank stupidity the mindless budget cuts of the Sequester.
Rhode Island General Law states that no teacher may be laid off unless notification of intent to layoff is given by March 1. There are a lot of problems with this law, but the most practical one is that cities and towns do not know their budget situation on March 1, so they are forced to notify of layoffs on spec – required to send notices lest the cities and towns find themselves unable to make layoffs later in the year. With great frequency, teachers handed layoff notifications in March often find themselves safely in their jobs once the budget is known – but not without substantial harm incurred along the way.
The harm that accrues to teachers and students because of this misguided policy is extraordinary. One of my dear friends teaches in the Pawtucket school system, which just issued layoff notices to many of their teachers. This teacher provided me with material deserving of at least three different opinion pieces, but I will only pull quotes relevant to this topic today, saving the others for another day. I have condensed and reformatted this material.
“[Teachers] receive this [layoff] letter regardless of job performance and student achievement, so this tells me what I do every day truly does not matter. I have data that proves I kick ass in the classroom...my students make significant gains and maintain these gains in [subsequent] years, yet through no fault of my own I am at risk of losing my job.
[The impact of receiving a layoff notice] is to immediately feel deflated and worthless. My attention shifts from my student’s needs to my survival needs for myself and my family. I feel that I am not valued, not important and worthless. I have been a teacher for 7 years and I have received a layoff notice for each of those 7 years.
New teachers with fresh ideas are leaving to find employment where they feel [professionally] secure. Larger class sizes, fewer personnel and declining resources negatively impact our kids – the students are thought of LAST.
As the layoff notifications roll in, it is important to note that the same job loss possibilities seldom occur within the infrastructure of the school administration. It is galling to me that Pawtucket has 6 people handling medical and payroll issues [for the school administration] while the [grade that I teach] has 28 students with no working computers, leaking ceilings, no science curriculum, no intervention resources and no academic after school programs.”
It is insane that we put our teachers through this kind of mental anguish for no good reason. Since March 1 is too soon for anyone to know what the school district’s finances will be for the next year, it should be a no-brainer to move the layoff notification date to later in the year. And yet, several attempts in past years to change this law in the Rhode Island General Assembly have failed.
When the teachers don’t like a policy, the administration doesn’t like the policy and the students are impacted in a really negative way by the same policy, it should be trivial to change that policy. Except in Rhode Island, nothing seems to get done easily.
Here is hoping that Rhode Island’s teacher unions drop their reluctance to moving these layoff dates to June 1. It is the right thing to do for our teachers and most importantly, for our kids.
Ken Block is the founder of the Rhode Island Moderate Party and ran as a candidate for governor in 2010.