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A Couple More RIF Questions & Answers

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Legal
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April 3, 2017

As more and more schools’ budgets are being further reduced, reductions in force (RIF) continue to be explored by many districts. A couple more questions frequently asked are worth reviewing once again this year. 

How can our district make a decision whether to RIF or not for next school year when we aren’t certain about the upcoming financial situation?

That has been a problem for many districts. If you’re hopeful you can maintain current staffing levels but you still have a fair amount of uncertainty about the coming year’s finances at the time the decision needs to be made, your district could implement “preventive” RIFs to cover itself. 

“Preventive RIF” is a term of art. In reality, the district is implementing a regular RIF, but at the same time it lets the affected staff members know that if the money is there when all is said and done, some or all of the reduced staff will be called back to work. 

The risk of doing this, of course, is that those people will find other jobs and will not be available if called back. Right now, while we have a major teacher shortage, that’s a fairly large risk for some positions. However, by going ahead and implementing the RIF that way, at least in the case of teachers, the district has made sure that it is not contractually bound to pay someone a year’s salary it may not be able to afford to pay.

How does a RIF work for retired teachers?

Retired teachers re-acquire career status after three consecutive complete years of employment with your district if they are placed on a regular contract upon return to employment (or if they are at first on a temporary contract and then placed on a regular contract). In that event, they would be considered for the RIF hierarchy and your RIF policy just like any other career teacher (i.e., priority over a probationary teacher; “reasonable accommodation” into another position if their position is eliminated, etc.).

One thing districts might want to consider is that retired teachers returning to employment may be placed on a temporary contract without the four-semester limitation the law requires for non-retired teachers. This can be somewhat helpful—in the event of a need to reduce staff, a RIF hearing would not need to be held for those teachers. Their temporary contracts would simply not be renewed for the ensuing year. 

Please do not hesitate to call me at any time if you have questions or need more information about RIFs or any other school legal matters. My cell number is 405.520.9680.

 

About the Author

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Terri Thomas

Director of Legal Services

Terri Thomas serves as Director of Legal Services for OPSRC.  Ms. Thomas is an attorney practicing exclusively in the area of Oklahoma school law, with a primary focus on rural and smaller school districts. Prior to OPSRC, she served as legal counsel for the Organization of Rural Oklahoma Schools (OROS) from 1999 to 2015 and represents many school districts throughout all parts of the state.

It’s no accident that Terri wound up practicing school law.  She grew up in the school business. Terri’s father, the late Howard Thomas, was a school superintendent for 25 years in several Oklahoma school districts, including Pauls Valley—Terri’s hometown—and Ardmore. After graduating from Pauls Valley High School, Terri received her bachelor’s degree in Finance from Southern Methodist University and her Juris Doctor from the University of Oklahoma College of Law.

She and her husband, Norman Thompson, and their 8-year old daughter, Mary, reside in Oklahoma City.