This post is in reference to the article:
522 Marion teachers lose jobs
By Fred Hiers
Published: Saturday, February 14, 2009 at 6:30a.m.
It looks like we are going to see headlines like the one above more often in the immediate future. Not to discount the fact that people losing their job is horrible, it is, I would like to discuss some thoughts that deal with massive budget cuts. Something in which I have relevant experience.
1) Budget Cuts Aren’t Always Bad: They do provide a reason to make needed change. When I faced my second significant budget cut, I referred to the advice that Jim Collins discusses in Good to Great (2001). To paraphrase, the budget process should be about what gets funded fully and what doesn’t get funded at all. If a position, department, and/or process doesn’t support the long term mission of the organization it should be abandoned. I have followed this advice, even when it is difficult, and as a result I have always left organizations in a better state than what I took over.
2) RIF’s and the Lack of Documentation: I can’t tell you the number of times that I have been tasked to assist campuses during massive restructuring where I discovered that administration knew exactly who was going to be let go, and was using that as a reason to stop all documentation. Let me be clear on this. This is the coward’s way out and you deserve all the animosity you get if you do this. As an administrator you have both a duty and responsibility to provide your staff with timely support, feedback and documentation. When you don’t do this, your staff will assume that “no news is good news” and won’t make prudent changes and contingency plans. So keep documenting, keep coaching, keep leading.
3) Re-interviewing Teachers: I get lots of questions on whether or not I think this is a good idea. It’s an OK idea, but only if everyone, especially administrators and professional support staff also have to re-interview. On the professional totem poll, teachers have the least control over external variables, yet they bear the brunt of the consequences. If you re-interview teachers, also re-interview the counselors, administrators and central office personnel.
4) Last Hired, First Fired: If you use this strategy, I guarantee you will release your some of your best teachers and some of your worst teachers. Last hired, first hired can be a determinant, but only if all other factors are equal.
5) Campus Staff vs. Central Office: If there is a need to RIF campus staff, you should always look to see where staff at central office can be reduced first. This almost never happens and if it does, the cuts are generally superficial. Once after a budget meeting with my superintendent, I went back to meet with my staff to explain how we had to become more efficient, due to declining tax revenue. We cut corners, delayed purchases, reduced pay increases and came up with a plan. When I went back to present the plan to the superintendent, I was introduced to his new secretary. He now had two, it seems that the first one needed an assistant. I put the raises back in!
6) Support Staff vs. Direct Service Staff: Here’s my general rule for prioritizing the importance of staff: 1 – Teacher; 2 – Staff that provides direct support to students; 3 – Staff that provides direct support to a teacher or service provider; 4 – Campus leadership; 5 – Campus infrastructure staff; 6 – District leadership; 7 – District infrastructure staff. If I have to make cuts, I work the list in reverse order.
7) Defense against RIF’s: What can you do to avoid getting RIF’ed? Sometimes nothing. Tough times don’t discriminate. So my advice is to play defense by going on offence. Make yourself as marketable as possible. Cross-train, get multiple certifications, become an expert in something, out work your peers, start keeping performance data – show how your students outperform their peers (if they don’t, get to work), and if you find out your job is at risk, start looking as soon as possible. And finally, try pay down your debt so if the worst does happen, you don’t face immediate financial ruin.