News Story

School District Works Around State Law To Protect Teachers Based on Seniority

None of L'Anse Creuse's 599 teachers rated 'ineffective'; 574 rated 'highly effective'

In 2011, the Michigan Legislature passed reforms that mandated that teachers could not be laid off based on seniority alone, as was the practice in union contracts.

The law states that teacher effectiveness must be a factor

But at least one school district has found a way around that law. Language in the L'Anse Creuse Public Schools union contract, which was signed in March 2013 and runs through 2016, states that unless teacher evaluations meet very specific guidelines, layoffs would be based on seniority for all 599 teachers in the district.

Here's how the Macomb County school district pulled it off:

The union contract states that the first teachers to be laid off will be those evaluated as "ineffective." The next to be laid off will be teachers rated as "minimally effective" for two years in a row. Then the contract states: "All others will be considered as equals and length of service or tenure status shall be the tiebreaker."

However, according to a Freedom of Information Act request, the district didn't give any of its 599 teachers an "ineffective" rating. It gave three teachers a "minimally effective" rating, but none received that rating for two years in a row. The district gave 22 teachers "effective" ratings and the remaining 574 were given the top "highly effective" rating.

Therefore, layoffs for all L'Anse Creuse teachers would be based on seniority.

L’Anse Creuse Public Schools ranked 229th overall in the academic rankings of public school districts, according to a study done by Bridge magazine and Public Sector Consultants. There were 540 public school districts and charter public schools ranked. The rankings are based on test scores and socioeconomic status.

Kelly Allen, director for public and community relations, said if the contract language was in violation of any statute, the district would have to follow the state law.

State law requires administrators to consider demonstrated effectiveness in the classroom. 

It’s not uncommon for school districts to lump teachers into one performance category. In 2011-12, the Hazel Park School District rated every teacher in the district's elementary schools, junior high and high school as "highly effective" despite districtwide failing grades for student achievement.  

The Lansing School District listed all 887 of its teachers as "effective" in 2011-12. Dozens of other districts did the same. 

"This is part of a huge problem," said Audrey Spalding, director of education policy at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy.

She said the Legislature has given school district officials tools to retain effective teachers.

"School districts and union management have collaborated to keep the status quo," Spalding said.

State Representative Ken Yonker, R-Caledonia Township, said the L’Anse Creuse situation was "very sad."

He said House Bill 5223, which deals with teacher ratings, is close to being passed and will address many of the shortcomings of the teacher evaluation system, which he said is an issue throughout the state. 

Rep. Yonker said the state reforms to education won’t work as long as the system protects adults.

"As we have heard for three years, education is not about student success, it is about adult comfort," he said. "They spend more time worrying about adults being protected."

(Editor's note: This story has been slightly edited since its original posting. Additional information about school district rankings has been added.)

Michigan Capitol Confidential is the news source produced by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Michigan Capitol Confidential reports with a free-market news perspective.