Reduction in Force: Definition & Guidelines

Instructor: Kerry Gray

Kerry has been a teacher and an administrator for more than twenty years. She has a Master of Education degree.

In this lesson, we will examine various scenarios that may result in a reduction in force, or RIF, as well as some of the parameters that are often in place regarding which teachers will be cut and how they will be rehired.

Definition of RIF

Under what conditions might a teacher with tenure be let go from his/her job? Reduction in force (RIF) is the term that is used in education when it becomes necessary for a school district to release some teachers due to budget shortfalls. Sometimes this happens when the enrollment at a school changes; sometimes it is the result of cuts in state education funding. While each state determines its own process when RIF becomes necessary, there are some consistencies that we will discuss.

Typical RIF Scenarios

Generally, RIF can only be applied under some specific circumstances. One of those possible circumstances is a decline in attendance. For example, if 400 students attended Washington Elementary School last year, but the expected enrollment for this year is only 350 students, the district may determine that the number of teachers in the regular education classrooms may be reduced from 17 to 15.

Changes in curriculum may also result in a RIF. For example, Adams High School offered several foreign languages last year, including Spanish, French, Latin, German, Italian, Hebrew, Arabic, and Mandarin Chinese. Due to community demands, the district decides to add STEM classes and cut Italian, Hebrew, Arabic, and Mandarin. Teachers who are certified in those foreign languages may be cut if they do not also have certification to teach the STEM classes.

Budget cuts may cause a RIF that could affect class sizes or curriculum. For example, if Washington Elementary continues to have 400 students, but can only afford 15 teachers, class size will raise from an average of 23-24 students per class to an average of 26-27 students per class. A possibility at Adams High School is that some of the foreign language classes may be cut without adding something else to take their place.

Who Will Be Cut?

Usually, districts will try to make up for a reduced number of positions through attrition. Attrition refers to employees who choose to leave a district to retire or for other reasons. Any additional cuts would usually come from probationary teachers, which are teachers who have not yet earned tenure in a district. Tenure means that a teacher has earned the privilege of having their contract automatically renewed each year, which generally comes automatically after a few years of service. If additional cuts must be made, tenured teachers may be reduced according to seniority.

Exceptions occur when a teacher has some type of specialized training that is necessary to the district. For example, if Adams High School only had one teacher who was certified to teach Chemistry, the Chemistry teacher might be bypassed when making cuts by seniority. Some states/districts may consider other experiences, such as being a Nationally Certified Teacher or holding an advanced degree, as criteria for remaining on staff over those with more seniority.

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