Teacher layoffs must be tied to performance

While nobody likes the idea of laying off teachers, the money is not available to prevent it from happening.


As the House and Senate work to come to agreement on a final budget this week, it's become obvious layoffs are going to occur. The state has a $5.1 billion gap between projected revenue and projected expenses. Not everything can - or will - be funded.

Education is one area that won't be receiving as much money as anticipated, so school districts around the state are going to have to let some teachers go. This is a very unfortunate reality.

But we commend the Senate for addressing this issue seriously by approving an education reform bill that does away with seniority as the basis for layoffs and instead establishes performance as a top criteria in determining who is retained.

Frankly, it would seem to be good common sense. However, to this point, even broaching the subject of basing teacher layoffs on performance was seen as being out of bounds.

Yet, this measure is progressing through the Legislature. It was approved by the Senate and is now being considered by the House.

Currently, newly hired teachers are the first to be terminated when a reduction in employees is required for economic reasons. The proposal by Sen. Rodney Tom, D-Medina, calls for performance evaluations, not seniority, to determine which teachers are laid off.

"Why in the world would you ever lay off a second-year teacher of the year in lieu of maybe an eighth- or ninth-year teacher who's on probation?" Tom asked.

That's clearly a rhetorical question.

It is only reasonable the best teachers be retained. It is particularly important at a time when classroom sizes are going to go up and teachers will be facing even greater challenges in doing their jobs. The years ahead are likely to be extremely difficult for educators.

Many lawmakers oppose this proposal. Final approval is far from a done deal.

However, arguments against basing layoffs on performance fail to address the issue. Instead, those who rail against the measure focus on overall funding for schools.

Senate Majority Lader Sen. Lisa Brown, D-Spokane, said if lawmakers really want to see good schools, they need to step up to the challenge of providing funding for them. Washington's constitution requires the state to fund K-12 education as its "paramount duty."

We can't disagree. Frankly, nobody could.

But the money is simply not available to do it all. The cost of medical care and social services has gone out of sight, pinching every other part of state government.

Education will likely get more dollars over the next two years than the current budget period, but it still won't be enough to pay for all that is wanted or needed for our schools.

Layoffs are going to occur in education, and those layoffs should be done as wisely as possible. Performance must be considered.


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