The Beacon

LIFO: What it is and how it works

Galen Sato, Digital Editor

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The ‘last-in, first-out’ (LIFO) policy used for teacher layoffs is designed to preserve teachers’ job security, but it also has some drawbacks.

Around April, when the school receives its budget for the coming year, changes may have to be made. Often, this means cutting staff. Simply put, the most recently hired teachers are the first to be cut when the budget is determined.

The school gets money from several different sources and has to make a budgeting plan, called a “work plan,” for the coming school year. When the budget comes in from the district, the principal-in Harding’s case, Mr. Revsbeck-has to figure out how the two compare, and what cuts need to be made.

Most of the time, budgets are people-based, with 90 percent of the budget going toward staffing. When a budget needs to decrease, the logical thing to do is to cut people.

The way the teacher contract works is that the longer a teacher has worked with the district, the more the teacher gets paid. So, if cuts have to be made in the staff, it makes economic sense to cut the most expensive people, right? That’s where LIFO comes in.

If the school were able to cut whoever was most expensive, teacher’s unions argue, then why would a teacher stay in the profession? Teaching is already a relatively low-paying job for its requirements. LIFO also helps ensure that people stay with the job by making it harder to be cut if you are an experienced teacher.

“It’s a sense of concern for teachers,” said Mr. Revsbeck, referring to the concern about knowing that they have a job from year to year.

LIFO, while being beneficial to the school’s community when experienced teachers are protected, can harm a school community in other ways. Because the policy is district-wide, not just by school, teacher displacement can occur between schools.

If one school has a new teacher, but another school has a more experienced teacher in the same position and they can no longer support them, the school with the new teacher may be forced to cut that new teacher and take on the experienced teacher from the other school. This is known as ‘bumping.’ Bumping teachers around schools can damage the teaching and learning community within a school, as well as disconnect teachers from students.

The LIFO policy is also designed for the whole population of teachers in a district and does not take individual cases into strong consideration. If the school has a beginning teacher who is great at what he or she does, but the school needs to cut someone from a department, the school has to make the cut without looking at the qualities that new teacher brings to the school.

Ian Buck, the only technology teacher at Harding, is a second year teacher in the district. “I can’t say I really like it; I would prefer a merit based system,” said Buck. “When you get systems like tenure, I feel like it reduces strive to keep pushing the envelope.”

Tenure is a system for automatic contract renewal, limiting but not exempting a teacher from being cut. It is generally only achieved after several years of teaching.

Another often-used example in teacher-bashing is the ‘burnt-out’ teacher, a generally older teacher who, through many years of teaching, has become less inclined to teaching and more inclined to show up, do nothing and get paid. Due to the current performance review structure within the contract, it is often quite difficult to release a teacher like this, which is why it’s a favorite example to skeptics.

However, this is a very small percentage of the teaching population. If situations like this do occur, it is the administrator’s, job to deal with this as a performance issue. Again, this is an example of an individual case which differs from the whole.

So, is there a middle ground? Will it ever be replaced? This policy, while it may have its drawbacks, has been around for a long time. “This isn’t just a recent thing,” said Erik Brandt, IB Coordinator and English teacher here at Harding. “It’s been around for years.”

While the St. Paul Federation of Teachers (SPFT) believes this method of managing teacher layoffs to be tried and true, there are still many debates about using only the number of years of service for deciding who gets cut. During contract negotiation for the 2017-18 and 2018-19 school years, the district is pushing for a change of language for much of the contract.

However, the only way that bumping is being addressed is a very specific point about interpreters. Nobody is pushing for a change in this particular part of the contract. It would appear as though everybody is satisfied with this policy.

Even with its problems and its collective mindset, teachers still abide by LIFO. Despite potentially deterring new teachers, people still accept it.

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LIFO: What it is and how it works