Jordan must cut jobs based on districtwide seniority, judge says

Published April 22, 2010 7:33 pm

Education » Less-experienced teachers may get bumped.
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If Jordan School District goes ahead with plans to ax 250 to 300 jobs this summer, it will have to consider employees' total district seniority -- not district seniority within a school -- a state judge has ruled.

Jordan asked Utah's 3rd District for clarification on its "reverse seniority" policy last month to avoid potential lawsuits from the Jordan Education Association (JEA) and the Jordan Education Support Professional Association (JESPA). The judge sided with the unions' interpretation of the policy, Jordan spokesman Steve Dunham said Thursday.

"Districtwide seniority is a way to treat all employees fairly and to value the investment that employees have made by spending their career in the Jordan School District," said Robin Frodge, JEA president. Otherwise, she said, there would be "lucky locations and unlucky locations."

Jordan plans to lay off 250 to 300 employees to plug a $17.5 million budget shortfall. Last month, the Board of Education announced the cuts would be made without slashing the number of classroom teachers.

But the court ruling, which Jordan has pledged to follow, means less-experienced teachers could be bumped if more senior district employees lose their positions and want to go back to the classroom. For instance, administrators and curriculum specialists who have teaching certificates likely will out-rank first-year teachers.

Jordan had proposed eliminating positions school by school, ranking employees' tenure with the district at each location. Under that proposal, the district offices would have been considered a school, meaning administrators with the least tenure could be laid off. Now, administrators, most of whom have moved up Jordan's ranks as teachers and principals, have the potential to bump employees anywhere in the district with less seniority.

There will be a "domino effect," Dunham explained.

The administration is still evaluating what positions to cut, but expects to present a plan at the May 11 Board of Education meeting, Dunham said.

Support staff, such as secretaries, bus drivers, custodians, lunch workers and aides, are likely to be hardest hit.

"We're the unseen helpers mostly. We are there to support those teachers so they're able to do their job,"said Debra Bills, president of JESPA and a special-ed bus driver. "We're just sick."

JEA has endorsed a "modest" tax increase and attrition -- not replacing employees who retire or resign -- to fill the budget gap and avoid lay-offs.

"Lay-offs, at this time, would only slow down the economic recovery of the [Salt Lake Valley's] west-side communities and have a negative impact on classrooms," Frodge said. "I definitely am in support of a tax increase.

Whether through layoffs or taxes, the Jordan board by law must adopt a balanced budget in June.

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What's next

Jordan School District expects to discuss a plan for 250 to 300 job cuts at the Board of Education meeting at 7 p.m. May 11 at 7905 S. Redwood Road, West Jordan.