Huberman moves to lay off ‘unsatisfactory’ teachers first

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At today’s meeting, school board members passed a resolution to lay off teachers based on performance, instead of
seniority.

At today’s meeting, school board members passed a resolution to lay off teachers based on performance, instead of
seniority.

The move signals even greater challenges for Chicago Teachers Union president-elect Karen Lewis, whose members are already facing up to 2,700 teacher layoffs and class sizes of up to 35 students due to a $427 million budget deficit.

Under the new layoff plan, teachers who are under remediation, and those with job performance ratings of “unsatisfactory,” would be first to go. After that, layoffs would happen according to the seniority rules laid out in the teachers’ contract.

The language in the resolution states that the policy is changing “to comply with Illinois School Code.” It cites a 15-year-old section of the law that requires that “[layoff] criteria shall take into account factors, including but not limited to, qualifications, certification, experience, performance ratings or evaluations, and any other factors relating to an employee’s job performance.”

At a press conference before the board meeting, Huberman said the small number of teachers—only about 3 percent—who are rated unsatisfactory on their evaluations should be the first to go. “We have to do the best by our students,” he said.

However, he admitted that the school code is in “conflict” with the union contract, which calls for layoffs based on seniority. He said he believes state law takes precedent.

Lewis maintains that the move is illegal, and said at the board meeting that it is “diametrically opposed” to the process required by the current union contract.

Her group, the Caucus of Rank and File Educators, stated in a press release that “Illinois School Code Section 24-12 is crystal clear: the order of dismissal of teachers for budgetary reasons must be done according to tenure unless another method is established in conjunction with the union.” 

But, she said, it is not clear whether the union has the right to strike over the issue. “I haven’t talked to the lawyers,” she said. “[But the layoffs] don’t need to occur, period. We can find the money [in other district expenditures].”

Faced with parents and teachers who cried and pleaded while demanding that budget cuts be shifted away from teachers, Huberman also emphasized that the layoffs are not a sure thing. “To the degree that the state puts money back in the budget, we are going to be in better shape,” he said.

Yet, changes in several of today’s agenda items may lend credibility to Lewis’ argument that more cuts can be made outside the classroom. Officials withdrew a plan to increase school computer equipment expenditures by $20 million, as well as a $1.1 million agreement to have the University of Chicago train teams of school administrators. They also nixed about $385,000 worth of consulting contracts.

It happened “in part based on feedback we had from the public,” board president Mary Richardson-Lowry said after the vote.

Earlier in the meeting, the speakers who castigated the board for its spending proposals included Katherine Hogan, a teacher at Social Justice High School. She said that the cuts would disproportionately affect small schools, and that her school was expected to lose one-third of its teachers.

“Would you purchase more fire detectors, after you’d just fired all the firefighters?” she said. “Would you purchase test equipment for planes in the military after you’d just fired the pilots to fly them?… We are cutting 2,700 chances of resiliency in kids.”