In a commentary published at AnnArbor.com, the daughter of a Saline Public Schools teacher decries the district’s decision to involuntarily transfer her mother away from an art-teaching job she’s held for 15 years and into a new position in front of a fifth grade classroom. The daughter writes:

As administrators, it is Scot Graden [Saline’s superintendent] and the district's responsibility to protect the Saline educational experience. As a union, it is Tim Heim [teachers union president] and the Saline Education Association's responsibility to protect teachers. As teachers, it is over 200 staff members' responsibility to protect their classrooms.

What the commentary misses is that the district won't have a chance to "protect the Saline educational experience,” because it has already agreed to protect the best interest of the school employee union first and foremost. Like virtually all school districts in the state, Saline uses a union-demanded “last in, first out” (LIFO) policy that mandates that all layoff and transfer decisions follow inflexible rules based ultimately on how many years an employee has been on the job. Considerations like what’s best for students and parents — or the future of an apparently well-liked art teacher — play no role.

When districts need to reassign or lay off teachers (due to enrollment declines, spending cuts or retirement, for example) one effect of LIFO is to set off a seniority “bump-chain,” requiring disruptions like the one affecting this art teacher.

Here’s how the policy is described in the Saline teacher contract:

Should changes in student population or other conditions result in general reduction in the number of teachers employed by the Board, the Board will retain as nearly as possible … those teachers having the longest professional service in the District. …

In other words, school managers and the union have agreed to prohibit any consideration of whether one teacher may be more effective than another, or even parents’ pleas that a particularly valuable educator be retained. So extreme is the policy that even when two teachers are equal in seniority, a random selection is made using the last four digits of teachers’ Social Security numbers. The neighboring Ann Arbor school district uses the same system, except there the lower number wins instead of the higher one.

These inflexible and archaic seniority-based practices became the norm in early 20th century industrial workshops. But it’s inappropriate and harmful to treat teachers as interchangeable cogs in a machine rather than as skilled professionals with unique and diverse talents. Among other negative effects, in this case the policy will cause a presumably excellent teacher to be yanked from her art classroom, contrary to the wishes of many parents and students.