RIFs, Grifters and Reality

-By Larry Sand

Excessive teacher hiring invariably leads to layoffs; teachers need to understand this trap and protect themselves.

We are now in the midst of RIF season. In California and elsewhere, when the economy is unstable, Reduction in Force (RIF) notices must go out to teachers by March 15th. These notices apprise teachers that they may be out of a job come June. School districts don’t know in March what their budget will be for the next school year, so they typically plan for a worst case scenario. It’s almost unheard of that all teachers who get the notices actually get laid off, but some will, and teachers must be notified if there is any chance they will lose their jobs.

When the school districts send out the notices, the teachers unions angrily point fingers at the district, insisting that they cut the bureaucracy instead and suggest that taxes should be raised rather than cutting back teachers. What the districts and the unions don’t say is that they are the problem; they are complicit in the process whereby teachers lose their jobs.

In good economic times, school districts scream persistently that they need more teachers even if the district is losing students or enrollment is flat. They do this because flooding school systems with teachers means smaller class sizes, which they claim will translate to higher student achievement. But practically every study of class size and achievement shows absolutely no correlation between the two.

Teachers unions like having more members on the payroll simply because then the unions can fill their coffers with more dues money.

Of course, a few years later when the economy sours, these newly hired teachers are the ones to be let go. We are in that part of the cycle today.

A look at some numbers would be instructive here. According to the California state Ed Data website, in Los Angeles in 1998-1999 there were 33,847 teachers for 695,885 kids. By 2008-2009 the number of teachers swelled to 38,367 while the number of students declined to 687,534. So LA gained over 4,500 teachers while losing over 8,000 students. In New York City the numbers were more egregious. According to the Wall Street Journal, between 2000 and 2009 the city added 7,000 teachers while enrollment was down 63,000 students. And from teacher union watch dog Mike Antonucci, we learn that in Ohio from 2000-2008 the number of teachers increased by over 17% while the student population shrank by almost 7%.

Antonucci has been reporting about this phenomenon for years – in good financial times hiring is out of control because there is an assumption that the economy will be robust forever. He also points out that the higher expenses don’t end with teachers’ salaries and benefits. “Most school districts employ about two non-teachers for every three teachers. If you hire more teachers, you also typically have to hire more support employees.”
And it’s not just Los Angeles, New York and Ohio. The rest of the country goes through a similar dance on a regular basis, with equally disastrous results.

You’d think that the teachers unions who profess to really care about teachers would think twice before leading their members down the rosy path to RIFs. But then again, grifters are never concerned with needs of their prey. The more teachers on the payroll mean more money for the unions, period; money and power are their raison-d’etre.

It is high time that teachers start realizing that they are being scammed by people who do not have their best interests at heart. As the grifters are highly unlikely to change their ways, teachers need to do their homework and check the numbers. If it seems that teaching hires are increasing and student enrollment is flat or decreasing, it is probably not a great time to go into teaching.
Larry Sand began his teaching career in New York in 1971. Since 1984, he has taught elementary school as well as English, math, history and ESL in the Los Angeles Unified School District, where he also served as a Title 1 Coordinator. Retired in 2009, he is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues – information teachers will often not get from their school districts or unions.

CTEN was formed in 2006 because a wide range of information from the more global concerns of education policy, education leadership, and education reform, to information having a more personal application, such as professional liability insurance, options of relationships to teachers’ unions, and the effect of unionism on teacher pay, comes to teachers from entities that have a specific agenda. Sand’s comments and op-eds have appeared in City Journal, Associated Press, Newsweek, Townhall Magazine, Los Angeles Times, San Diego Union Tribune, Los Angeles Daily News, San Jose Mercury News, Orange County Register and other publications. He has appeared on numerous broadcast news programs in Southern California and nationally.

Sand has participated in panel discussions and events focusing on education reform efforts and the impact of teachers’ unions on public education. In March 2010, Sand participated in a debate hosted by the non-profit Intelligence Squared, an organization that regularly hosts Oxford-style debates, which was nationally broadcast on Bloomberg TV and NPR, as well as covered by Newsweek. Sand and his teammates – Terry Moe of the Hoover Institution and former U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige, opposed the proposition – Don’t Blame Teachers Unions For Our Failing Schools. The pro-union team included Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers. In August 2010, he was on a panel at the Where’s the Outrage? Conference in San Francisco, where he spoke about how charter school operators can best deal with teachers’ unions. This past January he was on panels in Los Angeles, San Diego and San Mateo in support of National School Choice week.

Sand has also worked with other organizations to present accurate information about the relationship between teachers and their unions, most recently assisting in the production of a video for the Center for Union Facts in which a group of teachers speak truthfully about the teachers’ unions.

CTEN maintains an active and strong new media presence, reaching out to teachers and those interested in education reform across the USA, and around the world, with its popular Facebook page, whose members include teachers, writers, think tankers, and political activists. Since 2006, CTEN has experienced dramatic growth.

Copyright Publius Forum 2001