Monday, May 16, 2011

More about RIF

Since I've been getting lots of questions already about the RIF process and what that means, I thought I would direct people to the short article that our superintendent wrote for the Ferndale Record.  You can read it here or I have copied and pasted it below, I thought it was more clear and concise than any explanation that I could attempt.

OP ED on Reduction in Force
By Linda Quinn
May 9, 2011

Unfortunately, “RIF” has become an all-too-common verb in pubic schools. An acronym for “Reduction in Force,” to RIF is to lay someone off. The recession has made RIFing a regular feature of the annual budget development cycle in school districts.

Reduction in Force is directly related to the economy. Like most others, our district spends about 80% of its budget on salaries and benefits for employees. Therefore, when we have less money coming in and/or the cost of doing business goes up, we have to reduce our number of employees to balance the budget.

Since I’m freqently asked questions about the when, how, why, and who of the RIF process, I want to try to answer some of them.

The when of RIFing is determined by Washington law, which mandates districts notify any certificated employee they may not be able to employ the following school year by May 15 of the current year. (“Certificated” refers to teachers, counselors and other employees required to hold specialized certificates to work in schools; bus drivers, custodians and office workers who don’t need such certificates are called “classified” and aren’t subject to the same RIF timelines.)

The May 15 deadline is problematic because we can’t determine the exact number of certificated employees we’ll be able to afford next year until the state legislature adopts its budget, which rarely happens by May 15. Therefore, we have to estimate, and we’re compelled to estimate conservatively.

I’ve been asked, “Why do you RIF a teacher and then turn around a month or two later and hire her back? That just seems mean.” We are put in this position because the rules prohibit RIFing teachers after May 15, even if our financial situation gets worse. Every certificated employee who doesn’t get RIFed is guaranteed his or her job for the entire following year. On the other hand, we are allowed to take people off the RIF list after May 15 if our financial situation improves.

Because we know RIFs are hard on people, we try to estimate the number as close as possible without putting the district into financial jeopardy. Although we’re forced to be conservative, we hope our worst case scenario isn’t realized so we can hire back RIFed teachers.

The how of the RIF process is related to when. Since we’re required to make our RIF list before the state adopts a budget, we estimate the minimum number of teachers we can employ based on two things: (1) our prediction about the size of the budget shortfall, and (2) the educational needs of our students. Using this information, the school board sets a “minimum educational program.” (Our 2011-2012 program is on the district’s website.)

Once we know how many teachers we can guarantee employment the following year, we have to determine who will be RIFed, which is based on (1) the minimum educational program, and (2) the contract between the school district and the teachers’ union (FEA).

Who gets RIFed has nothing to do with how much we appreciate and respect the work of individual teachers. Rather, the FEA contract dictates RIFing based on seniority within categories. It also dictates who’s called back first when we’re able to undo some of the lay-offs. The teacher with the least seniority in a particular category is the first laid off and the last called back.

The why of RIFs is all about money. Our revenue is decreasing and our expenses are increasing.

The recession has taken a greater toll on Ferndale teachers than educators in some other places for several reasons, which are outlined in a longer version of this article published in the “Budget Center” on Ferndale School District’s website.

If there’s anything good about this process, it’s that teachers RIFed in May will receive full pay and benefits through the end of their contract on August 31. Unlike employees in other professions who come to work to find their job has been eliminated that day, teachers have time to plan.

Also, lots can happen in 3 ½ months to change the situation. Many teachers who’ve been RIFed in Ferndale in the past have gotten their jobs back before missing a single paycheck. In May 2009, 19 Ferndale teachers were RIFed; by fall,14 had been rehired. A similar pattern occurred in 2010: 19 teachers RIFed in May; by fall, all but two rehired in our district or one nearby.

RIFed teachers stay on the hire-back list for two years or until they accept a comparable position in another district. This means a they have first option on any opening for which they are qualified.

I won’t minimize the psychological hardship on our RIFed teachers, their students, families and colleagues. This is a difficult process, and I hate it. My heart goes out to the young educators directly impacted. We value them and the work they do immensely. However, we can only provide what the state and local community can afford.

Our situation would be much worse without local levy support from the citizens of Ferndale. When times were good, we used levy dollars to pay for “extras” for our students. During these tough times, levy dollars prevent more RIFing.

Since May 15 falls on a Sunday this year, RIF day will be Friday, May 13. Please join me in offering support to those Ferndale teachers who receive RIF notices that day, some of them for the third time. Let them know how much we care and that we’re all hoping their RIFs will be undone as soon as possible.

Linda Quinn, Superintendent
Ferndale School District

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