Personnel Series – Reduction in Force

This blog post is the tenth in our series of posts on Spring Personnel Decisions. It will discuss the practices Districts should use when placing teaching staff on involuntary leaves of absence due to a reduction in force (“RIF”).

RIF and the Teacher Tenure Act

When a District’s financial situation, pupil enrollment or reorganization dictates a reduction in teaching staff, Missouri law and school policies provide the framework by which that reduction should occur. Under the Teacher Tenure Act, § 168.124, RSMo. (“TTA”), there are three situations in which a District can conduct a RIF of its teaching staff:

  • A decrease in pupil enrollment.[1]
  • The District’s reorganization, or
  • The District’s financial condition.

 

If the Board of Education determines that at least one of these situations is present then a RIF is authorized under the TTA and Board Policies.

There are no restrictions under the TTA or other Missouri laws for how late into a school year the District may place a teacher on involuntary leave due to a RIF; a RIF is proper even if a permanent or probationary teacher has already signed a contract for an upcoming school year. In practice, if the District determines that it must reduce the number of teaching positions because of one of the three situations listed above, it is advisable to also determine, prior to April 15th, whether it is first appropriate to non-renew any probationary teachers prior to RIF’ing tenured teachers. Although the District can RIF a probationary teacher, it is normally advisable to simply non-renew the teacher instead of placing the teacher on leave.[2]

Procedures for RIF

Under the RIF process, permanent teachers are provided priority to positions over probationary teachers. Thus, no permanent teacher in a RIF can be placed on involuntary leave of absence while a probationary teacher is retained in a position for which a permanent teacher is “qualified”.

A permanent teacher is considered “qualified”, for purposes of RIF, if the teacher is certified to teach the position and otherwise capable of holding the position. The certification for a permanent teacher under consideration should be in place at the time the District makes the decision to RIF. If a permanent teacher is qualified for a position held by a probationary teacher, then the probationary teacher must be placed on an involuntary leave of absence rather than the tenured teacher.

If a District is faced with a situation in which it has to decide between retaining permanent teachers, the TTA requires that determination be made using performance based evaluations and seniority within the field of specialization. Seniority alone, however, is not controlling. The District should rely on the teachers’ evaluations in making this determination, and only consider seniority if the evaluation factors are determined to be equal. And a permanent teacher’s seniority in the field of specialization is controlling – not the permanent teacher’s seniority in the District.

Returning a Teacher From RIF Leave

After a RIF, if the District later determines that it needs to fill a position or positions (new or existing), the District must offer the position to a RIF’d teacher before the District can move on to another candidate(s). This situation applies even if the RIF’d teacher has already accepted another teaching position or is working another occupation. If the RIF’d teacher is in another such position, the teacher is still considered on leave and should be offered a position that their training and experience indicates they’re qualified for.

Also, under the TTA, a teacher can be placed on RIF leave for only three years, although this time period can be extended by the Board. While on leave, the RIF’d teacher’s tenure rights are still protected. The TTA expressly provides that a leave of absence does not impair a teacher’s tenure.

Notice to Teacher of RIF

As discussed above, the TTA does not provide a restriction for how late in a school year a RIF can occur. The District should be mindful though that if a teacher is placed on involuntary leave during the middle of the contract year, the District may still be responsible for paying that teacher some wages if the reason for the RIF was a decrease in funding. This specific requirement is found in § 168.124.3, RSMo, and could result in the District paying the teacher the greater of $3,000 or the teacher’s salary for the days worked prior to being placed on leave.[3] The determination of the amount depends upon whether the District’s combined ending fund balance exceeds ten (10) percent of expenditures in the teacher’s fund.

When a District decides to place a teacher on leave under a RIF, the teacher should be provided with a written statement (i.e. letter), notifying the teacher that he or she has been placed on involuntary leave. Here is sample language that can be included in that letter notice:

Dear (Teacher):

This letter is to notify you that the Board of Education of the ________School District has decided to place you on an involuntary leave of absence pursuant to RSMo. § 168.124. Such a leave is necessary because of a decrease in pupil enrollment, school district reorganization or the financial condition of the school district. This leave of absence will become effective [DATE], and shall continue for a period not more than three years unless extended by the Board of Education.

During your leave of absence, please keep the District informed of any changes to your contact information including change of address, phone numbers, etc. You are entitled to engage in teaching or any other occupation while on leave from the District.

I am certain you will have a number of questions regarding the Districts policy regarding involuntary leaves of absence.  I have attached a copy of the applicable Board Policy _____ for your convenience.

If you have questions regarding foregoing, please contact me at your earliest convenience.

Finally, a teacher placed on leave may appear before the Board to discuss the RIF. The teacher is not entitled to a due process hearing concerning his or her leave, but is permitted to discuss with the Board his or her placement on leave.

Conclusion

If you have any questions regarding reductions in force or any other personnel matter, please feel free to contact any of our team members at EdCounsel.

[1] Missouri law does not specifically define what constitutes a “decrease in pupil enrollment” for RFI purposes.

[2] The TTA does not prohibit the District from later non-renewing a probationary teacher who is on a leave of absence for a RIF.

[3] “If a school district has an unrestricted combined ending fund balance of more than ten percent of current expenditures in its teachers’ and incidental funds, and in the subsequent fiscal year such district, because of state appropriations, places a contracted teacher on leave of absence after forty days subsequent to the governor signing the elementary and secondary education appropriations bill, the district shall pay the affected teacher the greater of his or her salary for any days worked under the contract, or a sum equal to three thousand dollars.”