EDITORIAL: When firing people, employ the Golden Rule

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It’s never easy to “let someone go,” one of the euphemisms for ending someone’s employment, but we think the Cannelton School Board could have better handled the layoff of five noncertified employees.

We report on that board’s activities regularly, so we know they are good people who have been working under difficult conditions for some time.

Those conditions seemed to have been improving under the leadership of School Superintendent Al Chapman. Even his many efforts, which have included boldly proposing costly changes to conquer even more costly utility bills, have proven fruitless in the face of assaults from the state level.

We believe him and school-board members who said they had no option other than to “reduce” the staff, another pleasant-sounding word that means people will have to find other ways to pay their bills.

One of those who was “reduced” with only enough notice to clean out her desk asked why they were being fired. School-board President Bill Garrett replied that they weren’t.

“We’re laying you off,” he said. “This is a reduction in staff, is all it is.”

The only difference we see is how the unemployment office might view the “terminations,” another term that, except for the way it hints at fatality, sounds better than “fired.”

The word choices were attempts to make the actions seem nicer, but when pressed about criteria used for selecting who would go, board members seemed more interested in getting the dirty deed done than in extending any pleasantries. In contrast, one of those being relieved of duties had praise for Chapman. Custodian Betsy Riley called him “a mastermind and a genius” in the way he’s dealt with the difficult circumstances he and the corporation have faced.

Seniority, long a staple of staffing decisions, was a foreign concept to Garrett, who said, “I don’t know where you’re coming from with the seniority.” He and board member Barbara Beard both asserted that seniority doesn’t exist. They may have meant they did not have to consider it, but even if no legal requirement exists to consider someone’s length of service, no law prevents it from being a factor. If a decision was made to cut a few more highly paid employees rather than a larger number of those drawing smaller checks, they should have just said so.

Like pleasantries, explanations were unnecessary, board members asserted. “It’s a board decision,” Garrett said twice, implying its members are accountable to no one. They are charged with the responsibility of taking certain actions for the corporation, and no law requires them to explain them. But again, nothing prevents them from telling the “casualties,” as Beard called them, what went into their decision.

The idea that people treat others as they wish to be treated has a long history. We urge its employment in any such decisions that become necessary in the future.

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