As a member of a school board governance team, few situations are more sensitive than a district delivering March 15 layoff notices. The March 15 notice is a formal, written announcement from a school district to employees informing them that they may be released for the following school year beginning July 1. It is essential for governing board members to be familiar with information about the March 15 notice, its implementation process and the strict legal requirements attached to the process.
Permanent classified employees must receive March 15 layoff notices to be laid off
Prior to this year, classified employees could be laid off at any time during the school year with at least 60 days’ notice, due to lack of work or lack of funds. Effective Jan. 1, 2022, Assembly Bill 438 modified the Education Code’s classified layoff statutes, creating additional protections for classified employees and changing how school districts must conduct classified layoffs.
The process for laying off permanent classified employees now mirrors the process for certificated employees. Except for employees whose positions must be eliminated as a result of the expiration of a specially funded (categorical) program, permanent classified employees can only be laid off for the following school year if notified by March 15. While districts may still lay off classified employees due to lack of work or lack of funds, permanent classified employees have the right to request a hearing before an administrative law judge to determine if there is cause for their layoff. According to AB 438, a permanent classified employee includes an employee who was permanent at the time the notice or right to a hearing was required and an employee who became permanent after the date of the required notice.
As described in CSBA’s Sample Board Policy 4217.3, whenever a permanent classified employee is to be laid off for lack of work or lack of funds, the superintendent or designee shall, no later than March 15 and before the employee is given formal notice by the governing board, give to the employee written notice of the recommendation for layoff; the reasons that the employee’s services will not be required for the ensuing year; any displacement rights; re-employment rights, including placement on the 39 month re-employment list; and the employee’s right to a hearing. The district shall adhere to the notice, hearing and layoff procedures set forth in AB 438 (Education Code section 45117), and the Administrative Procedures Act. These procedures are more fully discussed below.
Boards may reduce the number of probationary and permanent certificated employees for a reduction or discontinuation of a particular kind of service or declining average daily attendance (though the latter is rarely used because it is complex and the particular kind of service layoff may be used when a district has declining enrollment), described further in CSBA’s Sample Board Policy 4117.3. When it becomes necessary to reduce the number of permanent and/or probationary employees pursuant to Education Code 44955, the district shall give notice to the affected employees, no later than March 15, stating the reasons for the action and the employees’ right to a hearing. The district shall adhere to the notice, hearing and layoff procedures in Education Code 44949, 44955 and other applicable provisions of law. These procedures are more fully discussed below.
Hearings before an administrative law judge
Education Code 45117 (classified employees) and Education Code 44949 (certificated employees) allow employees given notice of a layoff to request a hearing before an administrative law judge. An employee must be given at least seven days from March 15 to request a hearing. On or before May 7, the administrative law judge must submit the proposed decision, containing a determination as to the sufficiency of the cause and a recommendation as to disposition regarding the layoff, to the board for consideration and to affected employees.
The board shall make a final decision regarding the sufficiency of the cause and disposition of the layoff upon receipt of the administrative law judge’s proposed decision. None of the findings, recommendations or determinations of the administrative law judge are binding on the board. The board may conduct its own hearing, adopt the administrative law judge’s proposed decision, refer the case back to the administrative law judge for additional evidence, or reject or modify the proposed decision and make its own determination based upon its review of the record. Following the board’s decision, the superintendent or designee shall give final notice to the affected employees before May 15, unless the parties agree otherwise in accordance with procedures required by law.
Because of the complexity of related Education Code provisions and the interaction with collective bargaining agreements, it is strongly recommended that districts consult with legal counsel before instituting layoff proceedings.