Gist weighs in on layoff notice law

RI Commissioner of Education Deborah Gist issued a statement today supporting efforts by legislators (including Aquidneck Island Sen. Lou DiPalma's bill S2158) to move the notification date for teacher layoffs from March 1 to June 1. Here's the text of the Commissioner's statement:

The requirement that school committees must provide educators with layoff notices by a March 1 deadline is a ridiculous exercise that has to be stopped. This arbitrary deadline serves no purpose except to add to the stress of teachers who are working hard every day to provide our students with a world-class education.

I do believe that when school committees face difficult decisions about laying off teachers and other educators, teachers deserve to receive timely notice of these pending layoffs that may affect their livelihoods and their careers.

The current state law that sets a March 1 notification deadline may be well intentioned, but it has led to unintended consequences. Because the March 1 deadline falls early in the budget process, well before school districts are certain about their state aid and local revenues, school committees feel compelled to notify many or all educators about pending layoffs – even though the members of the school committee know that many or all of the teachers will ultimately retain their jobs.

Laying off hundreds of educators because of an imposed notification deadline leads to undue stress and anxiety and can disrupt the process of teaching and learning. I do believe that teachers and other educators need to know in a timely manner when their jobs may be in jeopardy, but information they receive on March 1 is not meaningful. I support the proposed legislation from Sen. Louis P. DiPalma and Rep. J. Russell Jackson that would move the notification date to June 1, by which time school committees have much more information about their finances.

No educator or school-committee member takes any pleasure in the process of layoffs, but we can all agree that the process should be done in a way that is in line with the budget process, is fair to teachers, and is in the best interest of our students.

Editorial note: Written from a press release.