RIF Policies and the Teacher Fair Dismissal Act

I’ve summarized the Arkansas Teacher Fair Dismissal Act (TFDA) in a previous post, but since that time, I’ve received several phone calls, emails, and comments from readers who’ve asked how a school district’s Reduction-In-Force (RIF) policy might affect, or be affected by, the TFDA. Rather than reply to each reader separately, I’ve decided to write a quick post on the issue.

It’s not uncommon for certain positions to be eliminated due to declining enrollment, restructuring, or financial concerns. As I’ve discussed before, teachers are not entitled by law to the same job every year. They are, however, entitled to appropriate notice and the opportunity to be heard should they be recommended for nonrenewal or termination.

By statute, every school district is required to have a written RIF policy, which is to be included in the district’s personnel policies and incorporated into every teacher’s contract. It’s up to each individual school district to develop its own RIF policy, as there are no statutory requirements as to what must be included. However, the policy should include some objective criteria. The RIF policies in most districts use either length-of-service or a merit-based point system, or a combination of the two, to determine the order of nonrenewal or termination.

Even in the event of a district-wide reduction-in-force, the school district is required to follow the procedural requirements of the TFDA. In fact, a reduction-in-force is one of several causes for which the TFDA allows termination during a school year. When a reduction-in-force is invoked, then obviously, the district must follow its RIF policy, or the nonrenewals or terminations may be void. However, even in the absence of a district-wide reduction-in-force, school districts have the discretionary ability to restructure, reassign, or eliminate positions, depending on the district’s needs. Again, the TFDA requirements must always be met anytime a nonrenewal or termination takes place, but those requirements don’t guarantee complete job security.

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