Unfortunately, we’re on the front end of an economic downturn. It will impact state budgets, and therefore educators everywhere need to prepare for a recession.
A recession means we are likely to see RIFs. I’ve experienced reduction in force – once on the receiving end and the other handing out the notices. They’re awful to write about and worse to experience, but as always it’s better to be informed than in the dark. This post will explore what a RIF is, and how to navigate reduction-in-force as an educator.
You will get through this.
What Is RIF?
RIF is an acronym that stands for “Reduction In Force.” A reduction in force occurs when an organization is eliminating positions for structural, budget, or capacity reasons. RIF and layoff are often used interchangeably, but they are not the same thing.
Typically a layoff is a temporary situation in which a company may bring an employee back to work when conditions change. Furlough days are short-term reductions in work schedule. A reduction in force is the total elimination of a position.
However, RIF and layoff are very similar for most educators because of built in recall mechanisms. Your position is being eliminated, but you have recall rights to a similar position for a set amount of time. Therefore, it’s temporary in the same way a layoff is temporary in many types of business.
Either a RIF or layoff can become permanent.
Examples of RIF (Reduction in Force)
Some examples of when a school district may implement a reduction in force:
Fewer students sign up to take French. There are no longer enough sections to support three French teachers. One teacher is RIFed.
Enrollment at the middle school declined and the budget had to be reduced. The district decides to reduce the number of administrators by .5 FTE. A full-time assistant principal is RIFed.
There is a significant economic downturn. Tax revenue is heavily impacted. A school district must raise class-size ratios. 20 elementary teachers are RIFed.
How Does Reduction in Force Work?
In public education a RIF is almost always the result of budget reductions. These could be due to lower tax revenue, expenditures outpacing revenue, or declining enrollment.
Reduction-in-force looks different depending on your job type. Let’s look at each.
Most teacher contracts spell out the implementation of a reduction in force. Typically, the district begins by designating the positions to be eliminated. Then, the provisions of the contract are followed to determine which teachers will be cut.
This is typically based on a cascading sequence of qualifications and seniority. Some contracts allow for partial consideration of other criteria. One example would be experience teaching at a designated level.
The result is that the least senior teachers, or those with very narrow qualifications, are typically RIFed. In my experience, it’s rare for core teachers with more than 3 years in a district to experience RIF. But, RIF processes went as deep as 5 years in 2008/9.
Once the specific teachers are identified, the district will provide RIF notices to the impacted teachers. Good practice is to do this in individual meetings with a supervisor, association rep, and knowledgeable human resources staff present to answer questions and give timelines.
Bad practice is to do it in email or solely by letter. Unfortunately, I’ve seen both.
The RIF notice should provide justification for RIF, effective date, your recall rights, timelines and process. More on this later.
Classified / Paraeducator RIF
Classified employee reduction-in-force is similar to teachers. If you are represented by an association, your agreement will spell out the terms of Reduction in Force and recall rights.
However, the choice of who gets RIFed works differently. Classified employees typically do not have levels of licensure with specific endorsement. Some jobs may require certain certifications (a maintenance position with electrical training for example) and these will work similarly to licensed positions.
However, many classified contracts work on ranges and classifications. When positions are identified for elimination, the least senior employees in that range will be eliminated. Whether or not RIF works between classifications and ranges depends on what your contract says. In some districts, the building you are assigned to may even factor into the decision.
Classified RIF will still impact the least senior employee – but determining the least senior depends on a greater number of factors. Once the district prepares an initial RIF list, the association will review it. The member will then receive the RIF notice spelling out the reasons, effective date, recall rights and timelines.
There are fewer administrative positions in school districts, so RIF happens relatively less frequently. However, administrators have significantly less process protection than most teacher and classified employees.
As with the previous two, the least senior qualified employee will be RIFed. The district typically has more discretion in determining how to apply that criteria.
You will receive a RIF notice that should include what recall rights (if any) the district grants. In my experience, recall is much less frequent for administrators. It’s generally best not to wait for it.
What To Do If You’re Notified of Reduction in Force
Being notified that your position has been reduced, and you no longer have a job is painful. I know – I’ve been there. I’ve also had to hand out notices too many times.
Here are some steps to take if you find yourself in this unfortunate position.
Don’t Take It Personally
The first thing to understand is the choice is not personal. Reduction in force is a procedural process followed according to district policies and agreements. It’s not about you, your worth, or your ability to do the job. As a principal, I’ve had to RIF the teachers I most wanted to keep.
Very good teachers, paraeducators, and administrators experience RIF. It’s not personal – but that doesn’t make it less painful.
It is incredibly important that you understand your recall rights and process. You also want to make sure the RIF was correctly applied. HR departments try to get it right, but believe me – they make mistakes.
Some questions to ask if they aren’t covered in the notification or you are unsure:
- When is my last day of work?
- How will I receive my final paycheck?
- When will my insurance benefits end?
- Do I have rights to be recalled to a position?
- How long do my recall rights last?
- How will I be notified?
- What happens to my rights if I decline a position?
After the notification, review all the information you have. If you are in a union, meet with an association rep and confirm your understanding. They are there to represent you.
Know It’s Temporary – If You Want It To Be
In education, reduction in force is almost always a temporary situation. There is a chronic shortage of educators. Even with massive reductions in 2009, most teachers were working again within the year.
The length may vary – in most cases we’ve recalled RIFed positions within a few months. Recall periods are typically 1 – 2 years. I have seen recall rights expire without being exercised, but those were for very specialized positions. Either way – you can get a job if you take the right steps.
This is also a perfect time for you to decide – “Do I want to stay in education?” Without a job or committment, it’s a good time to reflect. There is no shame in deciding to pursue other paths.
If You Want To Remain
If you want to remain in education, you’re now in a waiting period. Here are some steps to survive it and get back in as quickly as possible.
Make a Plan to Bridge the Gap
How will you spend your time while you wait for recall? This, of course, depends on your financial needs.
A great way to earn some income and stay current, visible, and connected, is to substitute in the district from which you’ve been RIFed. Even in the deepest economic downturn, schools need great subs for licensed and assistant positions.
If you don’t need the money, or options are scarce, volunteering is another way to stay current and connected.
If you’ve got limited endorsements, and the resources to pursue further education, this is also an opportunity to get endorsements that are in high-demand. Several teachers I know got their special education endorsements after being RIFed and ended up in jobs well before their normal recall rate.
Finally, you may need to get a job outside education while you wait for recall.
Do what you need to survive – just make a clear plan immediately so you can be ready.
Watch for Recall Notices
When a position is open for which you are qualified the district will issue a recall notice. These are issued with tight timelines (which you should already know if you asked the earlier questions) so it’s important you’re paying attention. It is possible to lose a position because you don’t respond quickly enough.
If you choose to travel during this time, make sure you have a system to check for notification.
Keep Your Contact Information Up-to-date
Economic instability will often cause changes in your life. You may have to move or drop your phone. If your contact information changes, make sure you provide the new information to your district human resource office.
I’ve seen too many recall notices returned, or an individual lose a position because they were unreachable. Don’t let it happen to you.
I’d also suggest providing the same updates to your association. Then, you have two organizations with the ability to contact you.
Don’t Just Wait – Look for Other Options
My final piece of advice if you’ve experienced a RIF is to consider other options. Yes, make a plan and pay attention to recall. This may be exactly what you want.
That said, if you’re open to other things you’ll have a chance to get back to work more quickly. We need good educators everywhere. I want you back to work as soon as possible!
Consider moving to a different state if there are jobs open. Check out which states are best for teachers pursuing financial independence. I’d highly recommend securing a job first! It’s not unusual for some states to be hiring heavily while other states are reducing.
You can also look into teaching abroad at an international school. One of the best teachers I’ve ever seen took the opportunity of RIF to take a job overseas. She’s never come back.
Finally, you may find options available in nearby districts. Even if you love the district you were working in, know that nothing is guaranteed. If you’re willing and able to branch out – do so.
Reduction in Force (RIF) is the elimination of positions, usually due to budget reductions.
RIF is not personal. By contract (and sometimes law) districts follow a clear process to determine which individuals are impacted.
If you are notified of a RIF make sure you ask questions to confirm it was applied correctly, understand your recall rights, and prepare for the future.
Take the opportunity to reflect on your future. If you want to remain in education, take the following steps:
- Make a plan to bridge the gap
- Watch for recall notices
- Keep your contact information up-to-date
- Consider other options
You will get through this! Many amazing educators have been RIFed in their early years but go on to long, successful, and secure careers in the profession!
Look for my next post later this week on another budget reduction tool that impacts educators: Furlough Days.