WEST ALLIS — As the West Allis-West Milwaukee Schools face dwindling enrollments, the school board last week approved new layoff rules that among other things will enable the district to keep the most talented teachers, regardless of whether they have seniority.
Board member Sue Sujecki said that taking factors into account in addition to seniority is indeed in students' best interests. She pointed to an example of how only recently, a Milwaukee Public Schools teacher who was voted Teacher of the Year was laid off. West Allis was quick to snatch her up, Sujecki said, and she wants to keep that teacher and others the district has sought to bring in even though they don't have much seniority.
However, they have top credentials, Sujecki said.
Because the district has many talented teachers who don't have a lot of seniority, "the committee felt strongly that it wanted more than seniority to base reductions on," said West Allis Central High School Principal Amy Van Deuren. She was chairwoman of the 12-member committee of teachers and administrators that has worked since November on a new layoff procedure.
The committee listed various factors that could be considered in addition to seniority and gave the list to teachers to rank in order of importance. The result was education, years of experience inside and outside the district and performance evaluations came out on top, she said.
So, the committee created a matrix that gives points for experience and levels achieved in performance reviews. In case of a tie, it included other factors such as performance history, advanced degrees, additional licenses or industry certifications and involvement in the school, district or community.
Sujecki applauded the committee for putting forward a logical plan.
"I compliment you on your work, it's very well thought out," Sujecki said.
Jeff Sikich, school board president and a former teacher in the district, also supported the plan.
"I like the matrix a lot. Seniority was just terribly unfair," he said.
To be able to keep the most talented teachers as district enrollments fall, the committee laid out a bumping procedure. Talented teachers who would be in line for layoff could be transferred to other schools where their credentials make them a better fit than some teachers who are already there. Then, the new layoff procedure would guide layoffs at the new schools.
The committee strongly supports this district-wide view of employment so that the best teaching staff possible can be in front of students, Van Deuren said.
School officials said they hope trimming the staff can happen naturally by attrition. But, if layoffs are needed, they wanted a streamlined policy to fall back on.
Another major change is that layoffs due to such things as declining enrollments will be considered permanent, under new rules the West Allis-West Milwaukee School Board approved last week.
Teachers who were laid off will not automatically be called back, even if enrollments take an upswing. However, they will be welcome to apply for openings, as all job-seekers will be able to do. However, the schools can encourage particularly valued laid off teachers to come in for an interview if openings occur. Otherwise, it will be up to teachers to keep an eye on the district's job postings.
"You do not have the right to your job," Van Deuren said.
The committee wanted to make it plain that rehiring wasn't a given, as last year teachers who had been laid off waited for their jobs to come back, only to miss out on good opportunities elsewhere, Van Deuren said.
Also, teachers will no longer be able to put in for transfers to other schools that would automatically be granted when there is an opening.
Teachers may not like many of the changes. Although that worried the committee, it always returned to the starting point of what would be best for students, Van Deuren said.
Dropping the practice of a waiting list to transfer into a school, kicked off some board discussion of how teachers might be protected from transfers that are instituted to punish, as has happened with previous school administrations.
"We've had issues," board member Dan Bailey said.
He suggested having teachers sign off on the reasons for their transfers.
"It would be good for them to agree with the reasons," agreed board member Gail Radonski.
However, Superintendent Marty Lexmond said that if the transfers are needed, they would happen, regardless of whether teachers sign off. If teachers feel they are being discriminated against or are being harassed by being transferred, they can follow procedures already in place for those complaints, he said.
The procedure that the board ultimately approved is in use all over Wisconsin, and doesn't require teachers signing off, Van Deuren said.