When the Buena Vista and Inkster school districts were dissolved because of financial troubles, State Rep. David Rutledge, D-Ypsilanti, and the Michigan Education Association said the teachers with the most seniority in the closing districts had a right to future openings in other districts.
House Bill 4813 establishes procedures for dissolving financially failed school districts. It was passed by both the Michigan House and Senate and was sent to Gov. Rick Snyder for his possible signature.
Rep. Rutledge offered amendments to protect the longest tenured teachers. He proposed mandating that districts had to hire teachers with the most seniority from the dissolved districts.
"This was an extraordinary circumstance," he said.
He said the district that received the students from the dissolved district would be allowed to offer new teaching positions created by the extra students to any teachers from the district in which they had been laid off. After that, for a period of two years, teachers from a dissolved district with the most seniority would have to be hired first only if they met the qualifications for the job, he said.
Rep. Rutledge said he thought there may be some benefit to the students to see a familiar teacher at their new school.
"Why wouldn't I hire them?" Rep. Rutledge asked.
Rep. Rutledge said he wanted hiring to be based on seniority so districts wouldn't hire the least expensive teacher and not factor in quality.
Audrey Spalding, education policy director at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, said there was nothing preventing school districts from hiring teachers from the districts that had been dissolved. But she said trying to make law the hiring of teachers with the most seniority only guaranteed the highest paid teacher would get the job, not the best teacher.
A teacher with 12 years or more experience could make as much as $75,182 at Buena Vista, for example.
"Districts should be able to hire the best teachers first," Spalding said. "Requiring districts to have to take in the teachers with the most seniority would force them to hire the most expensive teachers first, without being able to consider a teacher's performance."
Rep. Rutledge's amendments failed.
In a press release, the MEA condemned not guaranteeing future jobs to teachers from dissolved districts.
"School employees in the dissolved districts would not have rights to jobs in the receiving district — even though their district dissolved through no fault of their own," the press release said. "The legislation initially protected school employees in the dissolved districts by providing them with the right of first refusal for jobs in the receiving district …”
Amanda Fisher, assistant state director of the National Federation of Independent Business, said the private sector offers no such guarantees.
"Unfortunately for the students and employees, including teachers, these school districts were financially mismanaged," Fisher said. "The students have to be the first priority, making sure that they have a school to attend this fall. I would hope that if there are teachers of excellence, that they would be given every consideration by the new school district, but to have some sort of guarantee in written into statute is ludicrous. If a private company is mismanaged and goes out of business, are those employees guaranteed new jobs? Absolutely not. It's a shame that the MEA seems to be more focused on clinging to the unsustainable salaries and benefits of the past, than on the future of Michigan's children."