kitchen table math, the sequel: Question about teacher seniority

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Question about teacher seniority

I was talking with a girl who is finishing up her education degree (music) and asking her whether she will have to look out-of-state for a job. She said yes, but she was not sure what school level she wanted. I asked her about trying to find the best location right away because I heard that seniority doesn't transfer between states. She said that seniority doesn't transfer between school districts! Is this true everywhere? I know that we lost a good math teacher because he didn't want to lose his seniority moving from one state to another. Why would unions agree to that? Is it because the contracts are by district? Is tenure transferred, but not seniority? What happens with pay? Isn't it tied to seniority, or is pay step separate from seniority?

In our lower schools, if there is a reduction in force, teachers with higher seniority who have lost their class can bump a teacher out of any other class if they have lower seniority. This isn't true for 7th and 8th grades where you have to be certified in the area you teach. This bumping has been a big problem for us. A reduction of one class can cause a chain reaction of bumping. The school has no say over whether they think the teacher would be appropriate for that grade. Parents are angry because of the wholesale change and how many kids will have a teacher just getting up to speed for that grade. I think we now have a back-room battle between the administration and the union over this one.

She also said that the biggest demand is for teachers who teach material that is tested. She was resigned to the fact that music is the first to be cut. We then talked about finding towns that have a history of support of music. However, that's probably not where the job openings are.


Genevieve said...

Sometimes school districts will allow teachers to enter on the salary level with the number of years they had at another school district. I'm not sure if this also true of seniority.

ChemProf said...

She's right. Seniority does not transfer between districts. A teacher in a field with high demand may be able to cut a deal, but that is much less likely to apply to music teachers. The district would rather hire a new (cheaper) person. And yes, the union contract is district-by-district. Some districts actually use the fact that seniority doesn't transfer to negotiate high starting salaries -- so they can more easily poach good teachers from other districts.

Moving between states, you don't just lose seniority as a teacher. You may have to recreate your certification. To see how complicated this can be, here's a brochure on how to get certified in California if you were already a teacher in another state.

It is the problem with any tenure-based system. College faculty have some of the same issues -- if my family wanted to move, for some reason, I would have a hard time finding a full time position. Another college wouldn't want to give me tenure directly, unless I were some kind of research superstar, so I would go from a full professor at my current institution to at best an associate at the new place, most likely including the pay cut.

ChemProf said...

Also, for teachers, "seniority" means three related but not identical things:

1. where you are on the salary chart, which includes years of service in the district

2. seniority for assignments -- who gets first choice and who gets bumped out first

3. years of service for your pension, as most teacher pensions calculate the percentage of salary in the pension with a formula including years of age and years of service

All of these can be negotiated when you enter a new district, but unless they really want you, it is difficult to get much seniority transferred. It is usually easiest to get a salary bump. And none of it is automatic, even within a state.

North of 49th said...

I've taught in both the U.S. and, now, Ontario, Canada. In both, seniority is confined to the district you're in, so if you take a job with another district, you go to the bottom of the seniority list and can potentially be the first one laid off.

However, the "tenure" issue seems to be different here. We don't have "tenure." If you are hired, you first are hired on a probationary contract. Then, if you satisfactorily complete the probationary period, with several performance appraisals, you have a permanent contract -- but it is not "tenure." It simply means you cannot be fired without cause. Teachers can be, and are, fired, but this is done quietly. What is more common is that a teacher who is about to be fired will resign instead.

Our seniority system gives us "bumping" rights where surplus situations occur, but not within a school as to class assignments. Being senior on a school staff does not give the teacher any crack at particular jobs or grade levels, those assignments are entirely at the discretion of the principal, subject to the teacher having the appropriate qualifications.

So, we never have a "chain reaction" of bumping. If we lose a class, the most junior teacher in the school will be reassigned (to another school), and possibly some children will be reassigned to other classes, but it is rare for a teacher within the school to be reassigned after school begins. Class composition may change, though. Let's say we don't end up with enough fifth graders to make two full fifth grade classes. The classes will be reorganized, probably into some split grades. This happens in the third week of September, if it is necessary.

But the situation SteveH describes couldn't happen here.

With reference to the salary grid, I got credit for my two years teaching in the U.S. when I came here. I got credit for experience, but not seniority.

Anonymous said...

"However, the "tenure" issue seems to be different here. We don't have "tenure." If you are hired, you first are hired on a probationary contract. Then, if you satisfactorily complete the probationary period, with several performance appraisals, you have a permanent contract -- but it is not "tenure." It simply means you cannot be fired without cause. Teachers can be, and are, fired, but this is done quietly. What is more common is that a teacher who is about to be fired will resign instead."

What we call "tenure" here is exactly what you describe - tenured teacher cannot be fired without just cause. But - can be made to leave/resign by other means. We are on probation in NJ for 3 years and 1 day. So every MAy we look for our names to appear in the list of instructors re-hired for the next school year.

Seniority and tenure work only in the same district. If you change a district, you start from scratch (well they may or may not give you the same step on the salary guide). That is why all the Job hunting /changing is easier to do when you just start teaching - you are cheaper, you didn't get vested in another school, pension etc. So to some degree LIFO seems fair - it is much more difficult to get hired on step 10 than on step 2...

I started teaching in NYC, and moved to NJ after 2 years. First, my NYC certificate was not valid in NJ- had to submit all college papers,take the Praxis exams, sit through mandatory workshops. Then, the salaries vary greatly between the districts (I had no clue before I started going for interviews, NYC is one big district). In the school I teach now, they hired me on the lower step but then moved me up. My pension for 2 years in NYC was left there - I couldn't just transfer it, I had to buy it out.
So, the longer you stay in one district, the less chances you have to find something in another, and wherever you move, you start at the lowest end.
This is my third year in the school, and I am hopeful to get tenure next year (even though it means that we are tied to the same place for the rest of our lives unless my husband miraculously gets a job with the salary so I don't have to work))



SteveH said...

As far as I can tell from what you're saying, moving from one district to another (typically) should not change your salary; just your seniority. What benefit do you get in exchange for this loss?

Anonymous said...

SteveH, from what I see here in NJ, the salary IS changing with the district. Every single district has its own salary guide. So if you were making 55K being in step 5 in one district, you can land in step 6 in another with the salary of 48K...


ChemProf said...

"What benefit do you get in exchange for this loss?"

Why does someone switch districts? They need to move for family reasons, or another district has more supportive administration or better working conditions or a better payscale (as Exo says, just being on the same step doesn't mean the same salary). But there is no explicit exchange for the loss. And once someone has been in a district for a while, the loss probably isn't worth it unless there is some really major mitigating factor. So where you start has a huge impact on your life as a young teacher.

Anonymous said...

In my district, teacher experience transfer for purposes of salary. As far as job security, it does not.

As far as specific school assignments go, seniority doesn't even transfer between schools within the district. If a school's enrollment is lower than predicted after the October count and the school loses a teacher, unless someone volunteers to be reassigned to a different school, the last one in the building goes. Doesn't matter if that teacher is the only physics teacher the school has and has been with the district for 20 years - if they are new to that particular school they are out. (Teachers sign contracts with the district, not with individual schools.) A friend wanted to transfer to the school her child was attending in order to simply transportation and enable her to be more involved in her child's school but worried that if she took a transfer and the school lost enrollment, she would be the low man on the totem pole and could be reassigned anywhere in the district.

Unknown said...

My sister in law has transferred districts in Colorado, but when she does, she is looking for a different type of teaching job. She taught k & 3rd grades for 19 years in one district, then got her MA is Special Ed. then a MA in blind & mobility impairment, which has a whole different set of qualifications. Now she's in a different district working with blind students, which carries a different pay scale. She figures that as long as the retirement goes to the same state PERA account, she's doing ok.

We pay for performance, not on scale at our charter. We have never had a "last in, first out" policy. The future music teacher should look at charters, which pay into state retirement but have the ability to keep quality teachers - regardless of when they are hired.

Anonymous said...

Right. In NJ every district is on its own salary guide. And when you are hired, that is your only window to negotiate your starting position on the guide. Districts have policies but those are not written in stone. For example, I know one district that gives no credit for time spent teaching at a private school -- except when they do. It just depends on how much they want to hire you and whether there are cheaper acceptable candidates. But once you sign that first contract, then it IS written in stone.

As for your location and course assignments, they can assign you anything and to any building, as long as you are certified for the position.

On the other hand, once you are tenured, then in the event of a loss of position due to enrollment drop, the cut IS based on seniority of service in the district. I don't believe that that is in any way negotiable. But you do have to have taught on that certification to have seniority. That reduces "chain bumping". It doesn't matter that you have a k-8 certificate if all you have ever taught is say, high school English.

Bottom line: your friend's concern is not unfounded. However, most districts do demographic planning. And you can also look to the lower grades to get a short-range projection about enrollments. But that is not always sufficient: I met a teacher recently who was riffed from her position though she had been there for something like 15 years! Even after all those years, she was still low man on the totem pole.

SteveH said...

I assume that seniority rules are driven by the union, not the administration. It seems that these rules are a bad trade-off and beneficial to few teachers, especially the rules about loss of seniority when changing districts.

Contracts could keep seniority rules, but not require loss of seniority when moving between districts or states. That seems like it's pitting one set of teachers against another.

What's the downside? Good, young teachers are pushed out if the school hires higher seniority teachers from another area? That would only happen if they are riffed. It doesn't help good teachers with seniority.

Being in a district that is losing students wouldn't be so bad if you can get a job elsewhere at the same seniority level. I'm sure many have discussed these things in detail, but it seems like good teachers are the losers.

ChemProf said...

My mother was on the bargaining committee for her union for years, SteveH, and basically they don't think this way. Most teachers, especially those who start right after college, assume that the ideal career is twenty or thirty years in one district. Creating a system that would make it easier to move around just wouldn't occur to them. And they would worry about making it easy to hire high seniority teachers from another district and thereby pushing out "their" teachers. They wouldn't see the alternative as an upside, because moving around is something you only do if you have to.

SteveH said...

You would think that this issue would be brought up these days because it seems to be more difficult to start where you want. Also, your significant other might lose her/his job and you might have to move. Then there is the reduction in force problem that can force you to move on.

If a school hires a more senior teacher, they will have to pay more and will need a good reason to do so. This might bump out someone with lower seniority, but they can then go somewhere else without losing their seniority. What is the lesser evil?

Catherine Johnson said...

I have the impression that seniority transfers here in NY, but I could be wrong.

I do know that my district hires only young teachers (or career changers) because they're at the bottom of the pay scale. Before we moved here, the district didn't even interview first-time teachers. level transfers, which I think would have to mean that seniority transfers, too.

fyi: I talked to a dad here who wanted to teach in Irvington. He was a terrific math teacher who was retiring from his district, and wanted to then teach math here.

Our administration told him he was too expensive; there was no option of starting him at the bottom of the pay scale.

We ended up hiring one of his young colleagues, and he took a job at a private school.

Obviously, he was willing to take a pay cut, since he did take one in order to teach at a private school.

Anonymous said...

Seniority can transfer within the same district - in NYC, for instance (because it is one big district). Seniority has nothing to do with the step. I was the second in seniority in my science department in my second year of teaching at the middle school in NYC (because the other 4 science teachers were hired after me)-tells you a lot of the revolving door for staff...


Catherine Johnson said...

oh, right -- of course you're right about that (seniority vs step)