A key education reform passed last year requires Michigan districts to consider teacher performance when making layoff, recall and placement decisions. If Proposal 2 passes, however, union contracts will likely supersede and nullify this state law.
Districts will instead rely on seniority and, in some cases, random chance to determine which teachers end up in public school classrooms.
Nearly all teacher union contracts require schools to only use seniority when making personnel decisions. Teaching ability is prohibited from being considered. In fact, many contracts go so far as to prefer the decision be completely arbitrary rather than have a school administrator make a decision based on a teacher’s actual job performance.
For instance, the Rockford school district’s teacher contract states: “If it becomes necessary to lay off tenure teachers…seniority in the Rockford Schools shall prevail” and “ties in seniority will be broken by drawing lots with the [union] President present.” The Chippewa Valley and Hastings districts use similar methods by conducting lotteries for teachers tied in seniority. Let’s hope the best teachers have the best luck when the dice are cast.
Other districts use a more proscribed method to break seniority ties, but it’s still fundamentally random. The Mt. Morris school district, for instance, uses the last digit of an employee’s social security number to determine which teacher gets to stay in the classroom and which one gets pink slipped. The lower number wins (the contract specifies that zero is the lowest number), and if these numbers are the same, the next digit to the left is used.
Ann Arbor Public Schools has a similar policy, only it considers the last four digits of a teacher’s social security number — the lower the four-digit number, the more seniority. The Farmington school district uses the same method. But Saline adds a twist: the last four digits of a teacher’s social security number are still the determiner, but the higher number “wins.” The Thornapple-Kellogg school district uses the same policy.
Ties in seniority like this might not occur very often. But what will happen often if Proposal 2 is passed is that school districts will revert back to ignoring performance when making teacher personnel decisions in favor of basing these decisions on seniority and random chance.