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A Better Partnership
March 15, 2015

COA upholds merit-based layoffs for teachers

Before 2011, teacher unions controlled the criteria used in making teacher layoff decisions.  By making seniority-based layoff plans the norm, unions ensured that length of service rather than merit would control which teachers retained their positions.  However, in 2011 the Michigan legislature enacted four pieces of tie-barred legislation mandating Michigan’s local school boards make layoff decisions based on merit and that a teacher’s sole and exclusive remedy would be to appeal the decision to the courts.  In the consolidated cases of Baumgartner v. Perry Public Schools, No. 313945, Aubert v. Reed City Area Schools Board of Education, No. 314158, and Wright v. Board of Education of the Flint Community Schools, No. 314696, the Court of Appeals upheld this legislation by finding the State Tenure Commission lacked jurisdiction to hear petitioner teachers’ improper layoff disputes.
Petitioners in these cases are teachers who were laid off by respondents, their public-school-district employers.  In the face of budget restrictions, the schools reduced staff sizes in accordance with the layoff methodology mandated by two sections of the School Code, as amended in 2011: MCL 380.1248 and MCL 380.1249.  Petitioners brought their claims before the Michigan Department of Education, and in each instance, the Administrative Law Judge hearing the case rejected petitioners’ claims and granted respondents summary judgment.  Specifically, each Administrative Law Judge ruled that the 2011 amendments to the Teacher Tenure Act and School Code made clear that the State Tenure Commission lacked jurisdiction to hear claims regarding the layoff process because such claims could only be heard by the court system.
The petitioners in each case then appealed the Administrative Law Judges’ decisions to the State Tenure Commission.  The Tenure Commission rejected the ALJs’ holdings, asserting that Michigan case law gave it jurisdiction over layoff claims that asserted “subterfuge,” and that the 2011 amendments did not revoke that jurisdiction.  The Court of Appeals disagreed and held that it was rejecting the State Tenure Commission’s attempt to undue the landmark legislation where “for the first time in Michigan’s history, the Legislature decided to exercise its constitutional authority in the field of teacher layoffs” by taking teacher layoffs out of the collective bargaining process.  Accordingly, the court reversed the orders of the State Tenure Commission and dismissed petitioners’ suits. 

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