Last night, six of the seven members of the Madison Metropolitan School Board voted to delay changes to new layoff procedures for educators — insisting district administrators and the teachers’ union work out a compromise. Board Vice President Ali Muldrow abstained from the vote.
The local teachers union — Madison Teachers Incorporated or M-T-I — opposes two key aspects of a plan proposed by district officials.
The first is eliminating advanced notice currently given to teachers when layoffs occur. Right now, schools can only lay off staff in the spring, and teachers can finish out the school year. Administrators want to change that to just a 30-day notice. The proposed rules also allow administrators to lay off the teachers unilaterally, without having to contact the union.
School board member Nicki Vander Muelen called what administrators are proposing is the biggest power grab since former Gov. Scott Walker’s union-busting Act 10, the law that stripped public sector unions of nearly all collective bargaining rights.
“I’m going to be blatantly honest: I’m all for forming the rubic. I think it’s a great idea,” said Vander Meulen. “And I think we should work with MTI. I think the non-starters for me is the employee layoff unilateral decision and the thirty days, and that’s where I get stuck. If someone does an amendment, I’d be glad to support it.”
Ultimately, the board decided to edit the 30 day rule so they could come back later and amend it, and instructed district administrators to work with MTI to create an appeal process for layoffs.
The other change district officials are seeking is a change to seniority rules.
Currently, when Madison schools lay off staff members, seniority determines which teacher is let go or moved to another school.
But the districts wants to scrap that, and instead use a series of other metrics like performance evaluations. The district has not yet fully spelled out what that other criteria would be.
Jane Belmore, the interim superintendent of the Madison School District, says that laying off teachers based on seniority does not necessarily lead to the best outcomes.
“It’s important to note that the administration’s recommendation does not eliminate seniority as a criteria,” said Belmore. “Rather, it adds other criteria in addition to seniority. A policy where layoff and surplus are based solely on seniority is not giving our children the results they need. I know first-hand that the vast majority of our staff are highly qualified and valuable professionals. And I also know that using seniority only as a criteria for surplus and layoff often results in our children losing the benefits of having the highest quality staff because some of our newest hires-and not necessarily less experienced-have demonstrated that they are also some of the most effective in our classrooms at providing the best outcomes for our students.”
But the school board was hesitant to move forward with the proposed changes. Board president Gloria Reyes says that while seniority should not be the only metric, it does provide a sense of security for existing staff. Reyes says it wasn’t only white staff members who benefit from seniority.
“I’ve also talked to some black educators and some black staff,” said Reyes. “Seniority for them has protected them. So we are dealing with some institutional racism within our system. We have educators-black and brown educators-who are at a point in their seniority that they feel protected when they talk about or speak up on racial issues happening in their schools. I think that this is one point but it’s not the entire solution getting into what we’re trying to fix here.”
Ultimately, the board instructed district administrators to speak with MTI— to reach a consensus on other metrics to determine layoffs.
The discussion comes amid other shifts for Madison schools. Last week, the district announced a decision to start the fall semester with all virtual learning.
And in two weeks, Dr Carlton Jenkins will begin his first day as the district’s new superintendent.