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Madison School Board OKs layoff rules minimizing seniority, maximizing cultural competency
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Madison School Board OKs layoff rules minimizing seniority, maximizing cultural competency

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Madison schools will soon prioritize culturally responsive practices and de-emphasize seniority when making layoff and transfer decisions, a move meant to diversify the workforce, but which has made some teachers anxious.

The Madison School Board voted 4-3 to adopt the recommended changes to its employee handbook during a meeting that broke into heated discussion at times Monday night.

Board members Ali Muldrow, Savion Castro, Ananda Mirilli and Gloria Reyes voted for the change; Nicki Vander Meulen, Christina Gomez Schmidt and Cris Carusi voted against. The handbook changes take effect July 1.

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Early in the meeting, community members including teachers railed against what they called a rushed change to an employee handbook that the district had historically worked with the local teachers union, Madison Teachers Inc., to amend. Of the written statements submitted to the board ahead of the meeting, eight opposed the changes and three offered support.

“The handbook, up to this point has been collectively built by employees,” Kerry Motoviloff, a Madison teacher and member of MTI, said. “We don’t have to do this now, we don’t have to do this in this way.”

Motoviloff is also project lead for the MTI Centers project, which focuses on the retention and success of staff of color and researches the reasons why staff members leave the district.

“It’s not through surplus and layoff that we’re losing our staff of color, it is by lack of support and lack of feeling belonging,” she said.

President-elect of MTI, Michael Jones, said during the meeting he was against the handbook changes as well, but said he felt like the board’s decision has already been made. He said he hopes the union and the board of education can work more collaboratively on similar subjects going forward.

“I know we can do better together, you know we can do better together and I hope we will plan on doing so in the future,” he said.

New guidelines

Under new handbook guidelines, the chief of schools will work with principals to select teachers considered for layoffs and make selections based on the teacher’s culturally responsive practices, student learning objectives, seniority, additional language proficiency and academic credentials or certifications.

Also under new handbook guidelines, the superintendent may unilaterally transfer a teacher or identify them as surplus because of enrollment or program changes based on the teacher’s culturally responsive practices, seniority, additional language proficiency and academic credentials or certifications.

Culturally responsive practices, weighted at 40% out of 100 when the district considers both layoffs and surplus or transfers, includes the teacher’s ability to understand and articulate systems and beliefs that could lead to inequitable outcomes for students of color and the teacher’s ability to adapt their instruction to meet the needs of each student.

Madison has long struggled with addressing achievement gaps between white students and students of color. The district is also becoming more diverse, while diversity among teachers has not kept pace.

Student outcomes are weighted at 25% when considering layoffs and aren’t considered at all for transfers or surplus decisions.

Seniority is weighted at 20% when considering layoffs and 25% when considering surplus or transfers.

Additional language proficiency is weighted at 10% when considering layoffs and 20% when considering surplus or transfers.

Academic credentials or certifications are weighted at 5% when considering layoffs and 15% when considering surplus or transfers.

‘Necessary change’

“I think (the changes are) necessary,” said board member Savion Castro ahead of the meeting. “First-in-last-out has historically, disproportionately impacted Black workers, this is a necessary step we need to take to retain Black and brown teachers.”

In his recommendation to the board, ahead of a vote on the handbook changes, Superintendent Carlton Jenkins pointed out that the goal of the change to the handbook is to create guidelines where seniority isn’t the only decision-making factor when considering staff for layoffs or transfers.

“The current (handbook) language has come to serve as a structure of racial inequity that runs counter to our commitment to dismantle such structures,” he wrote in his recommendation. “… Staffing decisions should be based on what is best for students and that is retaining the most qualified staff.”

Editor's note: This story has been updated to include how the Madison School Board members voted.

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