If Madison County school leaders are forced to lay off employees, experience won’t necessarily save teachers’ jobs. Superintendent Mitch McGhee reviewed the system’s reduction in force (RIF) plan with the Madison County Board of Education last week, noting that there’s no “last hired, first fired,” clause.

“Basically, what that says is, we’re supposed to look for teacher effectiveness, not tenure stats,” McGhee said.

The school system is tasked with avoiding layoffs despite the loss of state funding for 15 teaching slots next year and a projected $2.5-$2.9 million shortfall in revenue (a result of decreased state funding and a dip in the local tax digest).

The plan is to slide as many existing teachers as possible into slots vacated by retirements or resignations.

But there are no guarantees that all jobs are safe.

That’s why the RIF plan, approved by the BOE back in 2003, was discussed.

“We hope that we don’t have to lay anybody off; the reality of the situation is that we may,” McGhee said.

Close to 90 percent of the school system’s expenses are tied to personnel, and McGhee said the system has little control over how it can spend the remaining 10 percent.

“If we’re going to cut our expenditures, personnel is going to have to take a hit,” he said. “There’s no way around it.”

Tenure will be considered in layoffs only when all other factors — such as professional expertise, teacher effectiveness and overall job performance — have been weighed.

“Not only are we saying that we shouldn’t consider tenure first, our policy says we can’t consider tenure and longevity,” McGhee said. “It says we have to consider professional expertise and effectiveness.”

Six teaching slots became available last week after the school board approved various resignations and retirements.

McGhee said four current teachers could move into those slots.

He noted that the central office has also heard verbally from four-to-five others who say they’re not returning for 2009-2010.

Contracts will be offered in April. At that point, the school board would also make a decision regarding layoffs.

After contracts are issued, a few more teachers might retire or resign, which would open up slots for anyone laid-off to return.

“If we have jobs that come open after that, we’re going to take the ‘RIF crew’ and to try to fill in with that,” McGhee said.

That option, of course, won’t apply to employees that are terminated.

“Understand that there’s two different things,” McGhee said. “I will come to you with some terminations as well, some non-renewals … Those aren’t ‘RIF-ed.’ Those are folks that we’re not happy with their performance, we don’t want them back in Madison County.”

There’s certainly concern and speculation surrounding potential job loss in the wake of school funding woes.

McGhee said the plan is to handle this process as openly and honestly as possible.

In fact, the superintendent discussed emailing a flier to address frequently asked questions.

“If y’all hear something, send me an email …. I want to address it as openly and honestly as we can,” McGhee said. “I’m telling the principals the same thing, curriculum directors, everybody.”

McGhee noted that schools find themselves in a quandary when it comes to layoffs compared to a business that’s suffering from a decreased demand for its product.

“Our product, our kids, are still here,” he said. “Our enrollment hasn’t gone down.”

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