As public schools prepare for budget cuts, Ann Arbor Public Schools has an unusual way to determine tiebreakers when deciding which teachers to lay off: Social Security numbers.

Public schools generally use seniority when making layoff determinations. But if teachers have the same amount of time accrued, the union contract states the last four digits of the teachers’ social security numbers must be used to break the tie. The lower number has the most seniority.

Michael Van Beek, education policy director of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, said schools will go to great lengths to not determine which teachers stay or go based on performance.

"Apparently the district would prefer to randomly assign teachers rather than factor work performance into decisions about layoffs,” Van Beek wrote in an email. “This treats teachers like interchangeable widgets, not like professionals. Some might argue that this is a ‘fair’ way to lay off teachers, but it's hard to see how this could possibly be beneficial for parents, students and the remaining teachers in the district."

An Ann Arbor Public School spokeswoman Liz Margolis didn’t address why performance isn’t used when making lay off decisions.

“We lay off in accordance with the contract,” Margolis said in an email.

There are some schools that have some flexibility when laying off rather than just basing it on seniority. In the East Lansing School District, for example, a less senior teacher can be retained over a more senior teacher if the less experienced teacher has qualifications and certifications that the more experienced teacher doesn’t have. However, the contract does allow the union to go through a grievance process if the board of education “abuses” that policy.

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