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Conn. group fights to end seniority-based layoffs for teachers

Says that talented newcomers suffer

By Stephanie Reitz
Associated Press / May 26, 2011

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HARTFORD — Leaders and supporters of a Connecticut group seeking education law changes are pushing lawmakers to stop school districts from using seniority to determine which teachers could face budget-related layoffs.

Leaders and supporters of Connecticut Coalition for Achievement Now, including the superintendent of Hartford’s schools, have criticized “last in, first out’’ seniority-based layoff policies for years and reiterated their opposition yesterday in a gathering at the state Capitol.

They say this year’s state and local budget constraints make layoffs a real threat to talented new teachers, who are first in line for cuts in many districts while seniority shields other teachers even with well-documented ineptitude.

“We’ve got to find a way to factor in teacher performance to the layoff process, and that’s what we’re here today calling on the General Assembly to do,’’ School Superintendent Steve Tracy of Derby said Tuesday.

Derby’s Teacher of the Year is among those facing possible layoffs because, despite her skills, she has only three years of seniority, the superintendent said.

However, representatives of the state’s largest teachers union say four-fifths of the districts where they represent educators already have factors beyond seniority to determine layoff decisions.

Those procedures are best set at the local level in collective bargaining rather than by legislative mandate, they said.

“In districts that have negotiated this, it works,’’ said Mary Loftus Levine, policy director for the Connecticut Education Association union. “We think we need a reality check here. What we need are solutions, not scapegoats.’’

Any legislative changes to prohibit seniority-based layoffs in Connecticut would have to be approved by June 8, when the General Assembly adjourns.

A bill died in the Legislature’s Education Committee this spring, so the item could be revived only if the coalition persuades lawmakers to tack on the measure to another active bill.

Coalition chief executive officer Alex Johnston would not say whether specific legislators have promised to push the measure, but said Tuesday that they “wouldn’t be here today if we didn’t think there was a real chance of passing this.’’

State law requires school districts to notify nontenured teachers by April 1 if there is a possibility they could be laid off, but in stable budget years, those notices are later rescinded as budgets are settled.

This year, education officials say job cuts are inevitable in some districts because Connecticut’s state aid to districts is not increasing and one-time federal stimulus grants for education are running out in many communities.

The Connecticut Education Association says that of the 146 contracts in school districts where they represent teachers, only 26 have seniority as the sole factor in determining layoff order.

But in communities like Hartford, where teachers are represented by a different union, the layoff rules are so strict that if two teachers are hired on the same day and one must later be laid off, the tie is broken by an uncontrollable factor: the last figure of their Social Security number.

“Surely there’s other data that we have, objective data we can use, other than a number assigned to people randomly at birth to determine which teachers should stay and which should go,’’ Johnston said.

About 700 public school teaching jobs disappeared last year in Connecticut through retirements, attrition, and layoffs.

It marked the first dip in about a decade, leaving about 52,700 full- and part-time positions on the books statewide.

Hundreds of nontenured teachers received warnings by April 1 that they could be laid off later this year, though final decisions will not be made until after state and local budgets are settled, probably in June.