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Madison School Board pushes back vote on layoff changes, directs staff to work with union
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MADISON PUBLIC SCHOOLS

Madison School Board pushes back vote on layoff changes, directs staff to work with union

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Doyle Administration Building

Despite Madison School Board members largely agreeing Monday that future layoffs should be based on teacher qualifications and not seniority, the body delayed a vote on major changes to how staff cuts are made, opting to buy more time to work with a concerned teachers union.

The board did not act on recommended layoff and “surplus” changes interim Superintendent Jane Belmore brought forward Monday. Instead, board members directed administrators to keep working with Madison Teachers Inc. and see whether common ground can be reached by November.

The union doesn’t oppose qualifications-based decisions outright but said it worries decisions about who gets cut would become too subjective.

“MTI representatives remain open minded, prepared to engage with the District in a process of dialogue examining the criteria and issues brought on by surplus and layoff decision making,” union spokesperson Michelle Michalak said in an email Monday. “We need to clearly define the problem we are hoping to solve, together. We will not assume administrative discretion is the best solution simply because it is convenient.”

The district will now have up to four more months to develop a rubric with MTI that would assess qualifications for when layoffs and surplus designations happen, which is when a teacher has to move to a different school because that person’s current school has too many staff for its enrollment.

The district is proposing qualifications include: scores on the state’s Educator Effectiveness evaluation, cultural competency, experience, academic credentials and certifications, proficiency in a second language, and seniority.

Several board members said elevating qualifications as a determining factor — instead of having layoffs based solely on seniority as they are now — would allow the district to better retain teachers of color hired in recent years, break the status quo and promote racial justice.

Board member Ali Muldrow said she’s heard from a lot of people who are “deeply critical of this decision.”

Under a seniority-based system, though, she said “people of color are the last hired and the first fired.”

“We should not be using seniority as the sole determinant in evaluating someone’s ability to serve children,” board member Savion Castro said.

Belmore is also recommending letting layoffs happen with a 30-day notice — a proposal several board members criticized but administrators said could be necessary if the COVID-19 pandemic busts the district’s budget.

Currently, layoffs can only happen in the spring.

“I can’t imagine working for an organization where my job security was 30 days,” said board member Cris Carusi.

Uncertain times

Deirdre Hargrove-Krieghoff, the district’s head of human resources, said it would be a “great mistake” to not have the option to issue layoffs with a month’s notice, stressing it would give the district needed flexibility over its staffing.

“Obviously, if you’re going to lay somebody off, it would be great to give them a year notice,” Muldrow said. “But if we’re laying people off, it’s because we cannot afford to keep them on, which means if we keep them on for an extended period of time after they’ve been laid off … that’s not in line with our fiduciary responsibility.”

Changes to layoffs and surplus designations were among a number of proposed revisions to the Employee Handbook, which covers staff-related topics such as vacation days, discipline and the formal grievance process, at Monday’s meeting.

As a result of Act 10 — the 2011 law that significantly weakened the power of most public sector unions — the district and MTI are only able to negotiate on base wages. But the sides usually meet annually to try to reach consensus on changes to the handbook.

The board approved changes Monday to several areas on which both sides were in agreement, but revisions to layoffs have been the most contentious unresolved area.

Safety committee

In other action, the board voted Monday to create an ad hoc committee charged with making policy and budget recommendations on school safety now that the city’s four main high schools will be without police officers.

The ad hoc committee will be tasked with reviewing several board policies around school safety, investigations, reporting threats and examining disproportional disciplinary actions. It’s expected to provide an update to the board by the end of August.

In late June, the School Board terminated a contract with the Madison Police Department to station school resource officers, or SROs, at East, La Follette, Memorial and West high schools.

The cancellation of the contract comes after years of pressure from local activists demanding the removal of SROs. The decision, though, was ultimately swayed by the Minneapolis police custody killing of George Floyd and the resulting nationwide reckoning on racial injustice and police brutality.

The ad hoc committee will be led by board president Gloria Reyes and Castro. It includes spots for students, parents, community members, a school security guard, teachers and the executive director of MTI.

“I can’t imagine working for an organization where my job security was 30 days.” Cris Carusi, Madison School Board member

“We should not be using seniority as the sole determinant in evaluating someone’s ability to serve children.” Savion Castro, Madison School Board member

“We will not assume administrative discretion is the best solution simply because it is convenient.” Michelle Michalak, Madison Teachers Inc.

"We will not assume administrative discretion is the best solution simply because it is convenient."

Michelle Michalak, Madison Teachers Inc.

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"We should not be using seniority as the sole determinant in evaluating someone's ability to serve children."

Savion Castro, Madison School Board member

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"I can't imagine working for an organization where my job security was 30 days."

Cris Carusi, Madison School Board member 

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