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Is my teaching job safe in this recession?


The downturn in the economy has me worried. How safe is my job?

Virginia will continue to offer public education to school-age children, as required by the state constitution. We will have schools, and schools will employ teachers and other support employees. But public schools are not recession proof. The Commonwealth faces a large budget shortfall, and tax revenues are down in cities and counties across the state.

The purpose of this column is not to cause you excessive worry but to let you know the facts about your employment rights, and to urge all VEA members to educate themselves and stand up for education funding.

Teachers are the largest group of school employees and many aspects of teacher contracts are governed by state law. But even continuing teacher contracts don't have special protection from cutbacks or so-called RIFs (reductions in force).

Virginia Code section 22.1-304 allows continuing contracts to be terminated if subjects are abolished or enrollment declines. Section 22.1-304 also specifies that "nothing in the continuing contract shall be construed to authorize the school board to contract for any financial obligation beyond the period for which any funds have been made available with which to meet such obligation."

In 1993 the Supreme Court of Virginia ruled that the Henry County School Board could properly change policy and lay off a continuing contract physical education teacher while retaining a less senior annual contract teacher- coach. Policy changes in one school year for a RIF the next year did not breach teacher contracts, and state law did not require the school board to give continuing contract teachers priority or higher status during a RIF.

This suggests two issues you need to influence: the provision of adequate school funding overall and the presence of a solid policy on how RIFs will be handled.

Let's take up the budget issue first. Your local School Board will decide whether cuts are needed and what gets cut. You and your fellow VEA members are an important resource to inform and advise the school board as it makes decisions about course offerings, class size, extracurricular activities, school facilities, and so on. And your local Association can work with the parent-teacher organization and other groups as the school budget comes before your city council or county board of supervisors. Contact your local Association representatives for details on how you can get involved.

Don't forget that localities depend on public education funding from the state as well.

Now let's turn to those dreaded RIFs. Your local school board effectively decides who might be laid off. VEA members should work together to review local board policy on RIFs. Check what triggers application of the policy. Look at how seniority is defined, calculated, and whether it determines order of layoff. Check for notice requirements and recall rights. Depending on your circumstances, you and your fellow Association Members may want to seek changes in RIF policy or protect the policy in place from proposals for change.

Now is an excellent time to review and update your own school record with an eye to provisions of the RIF policy. For example, seniority can be decided by date of hire or by assignment to a particular school, so you want to check those dates in your record. Make sure your school record accurately reflects all areas of endorsement and experience, because multiple endorsements may allow you to change your teaching assignment rather than be laid off. Teachers in hard-to-fill subjects, such as special education, speech pathology, or physics, may be needed when other areas are reduced or even eliminated. Assess your flexibility. Are you interested in earning new endorsements to stay where you are? Or can you move to another district that may still be offering your subject or adding students?

You may be inclined to hunker down, but rough times are when you-and your Association-may be most influential. You'll also feel better about the situation if you take action. So talk to your local Association President and your VEA-NEA UniServ Director to get information about your own situation, policies in your school division, and local conditions. Volunteer to serve on an Association Committee. Attend school board meetings, or keep in touch with Association colleagues who do. Go to www.veanea.org and sign up as a cyber-lobbyist. All of us must work together to protect children and public education in these hard economic times.


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