RIFing off students, teachers and schools

Victor Joecks

Often overlooked in the ongoing contract dispute between the Clark County School District and the Clark County Education Association is how Reduction in Force (RIF) procedures will work if finances force the district to lay off teachers.

Currently, CCSD is facing a $150 million budget shortfall. To avoid teacher layoffs, the district has proposed freezing teacher salaries, sharing an increase in PERS contributions with teachers (educators currently pay nothing towards their retirement) and moving from the costly union-sponsored health plan to one offered by a private company.

Under President Ruben Murillo, the CCEA teacher union is currently demanding pay increases, even though that will force the district to layoff over 500 teachers.

If CCEA gets its way, which 500 teachers will be laid off?

Before the 2011 Legislature passed AB229, the answer was simple: Last in, First out. The RIF system was based entirely on seniority. Teaching ability wasn't considered and in many cases the "Last in, First out" provisions of collective bargaining agreements (CBAs) forced schools to let go of exceptionally fine teachers, while retaining low-performing teachers.

Students, parents and teachers have recognized that "Last in, First out" policies are lose-lose policies.   Students lose talented educators, and high-performing teachers, even if not fired, must pick up the slack for ineffective colleagues.

In the last session, lawmakers attempted to address this issue by passing AB229, which mandates that school district layoffs "must not be based solely on the seniority of the teacher or administrator." Other factors to be considered include performance evaluations, disciplinary history or even criminal records.

On the surface, the problems in the old RIF system appear solved. This new law, however, is subject to collective-bargaining agreements. This means that the districts and the union must bargain over how seniority will factor into layoffs – allowing the CCEA to demand seniority be weighted so heavily that, practically speaking, "Last in, First out" could still determine layoffs.

Despite seniority-based layoffs' negative impact on students and quality teachers, CCEA has made it clear that preserving the destructive system is one of its highest priorities. Murillo has even claimed that the current "Last in, First out" system "works."

It should be noted that, unlike the teacher union, the Clark County Administrators Union has already voluntarily changed its RIF process: Now any reduction of the number of administrators will be based primarily on merit.

The control the teacher union now has over the RIF process is instructive in a number of areas. First, allowing "Last in, First out" to be subject to bargaining agreements is yet another reminder of how minor the education reform package was that was a portion of what Gov. Brian Sandoval and Republican lawmakers traded for one of the largest tax hikes in Nevada's history.

Second, giving CCEA and other unions the ability to collectively bargaining on issues outside of salary considerations hampers student learning. As Greg Moo detailed in his recent NPRI study, NRS 288: A Law Against Student Learning, NRS 288 forces school districts to negotiate its RIF and disciplinary procedures with unions. That's what produced this sorry "Last in, First out" policy to begin with. Such union power has led to less student learning all across the nation. The American Enterprise Institute recently noted that:

Under the current seniority-based system, students lose about two to four months worth of learning in the year following layoffs; retaining highly effective teachers would preserve that learning.

Third, because NRS 288 bestows on unions so much power, education reforms that are subjected to CBAs are basically worthless. Consider the headline of the CCEA "Monday Report" after the 2011 legislature passed its package of minor education reforms [caps in the original]:


Describing AB229, Murillo exults that "Seniority was not eliminated!" and that "CCEA and CCSD must bargain this language." [Emphasis in the original]

The words and their implications are clear. Despite bipartisan agreement that "Last in, First out" policies hurt students, effective teachers and our school system, the union is eager to defend seniority-based layoffs during closed-door bargaining sessions.

For the sake of our children and the hard-working, dedicated teachers who are doing their job well, the CCEA should follow the example of the administrators union and insist that RIF procedures be based first and foremost on merit.

And when our elected officials next return to Carson City, they should remove the CBA loophole that allows unions to neuter proven reforms such as ending "Last in, First out."

Collective bargaining for government workers encourages mediocrity and waste of public resources. Last in, First out is just one more painful example.

Victor Joecks is communications director for the Nevada Policy Research Institute. For more visit http://npri.org/.