As the recession lingers, school districts across the country are facing widening budget deficits. Many are making the decision to cut programs or lay off teachers in an attempt to make ends meet. As the number of headlines trumpeting school district layoffs increases, many teachers are left wondering whether they will be affected.

A reduction in force (RIF) is an action that a school board can take to essentially lay off professional contract personnel when the school district is facing a financial emergency or planning to implement a program change. A school district may nonrenew a teacher’s contract at the end of its term or may terminate a contract during its term as the result of a properly implemented RIF.

There are strict legal requirements that govern the RIF process and determine which teachers, if any, are subject to contract nonrenewal or termination. Whether a district has legally RIF’d a contract can depend on a number of factors including the type of contract, the policies adopted by the school board, and whether the RIF takes place during or at the end of a school year.

To initiate a RIF, a board of trustees must identify a condition that justifies the need to reduce staff, such as a financial exigency for a mid-term RIF and/or a program change for an end-of-term RIF. A declaration of financial exigency may mean that a district as a whole faces budgetary constraints due to declining revenue or declining enrollment. A program change could reflect a curriculum change, personnel or staff reorganization, a lack of student response to particular course offerings, or the consolidation of schools, programs or departments. The law imposes important restrictions on a board’s right to determine when certain conditions justify a RIF.

Once the district has declared a RIF, it must identify the employment area affected by the RIF, such as campus, grade or program, and apply its local board policies to identify the teachers who will be affected. Only teachers assigned to work in the employment areas defined by the board of trustees are at risk of being subject to the RIF.

Although the criteria can vary, most district policies utilize some combination of certification, performance, seniority and professional background to determine which teachers within the specified employment area are subject to the RIF. Once the teachers are identified, their names are submitted to the board of trustees, who must then vote to propose the nonrenewal or termination of the contracts. A teacher must receive notice of the action and can request a hearing as required by law.

If you are a TCTA member and believe that you might be the subject of a RIF, you should call the TCTA Legal Department at (888) 879-8282.

Probationary contract teachers and at-will employees

A school district does not need to implement a RIF in order to terminate a probationary contract at the end of its term or terminate the employment of an at-will employee. A school district may choose to terminate a probationary contract at the end of the year for any reason that is in the best interests of the district.

However, if the school district attempts to terminate the contract of a probationary contract teacher during the school year, the district must observe the RIF process and must provide the teacher with an opportunity for notice and a hearing in accordance with law. At-will employees may be terminated at any time, for any lawful reason. Probationary contract holders being terminated at the end of the contract term and at-will employees may file a grievance in accordance with board policy regarding their employment termination.

See also:

A reduction in force has been announced, now what?

Reduction in force: responding intelligently with the facts!

What to do if your district is considering a RIF