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New School Policy Does Away With Seniority-Only Teacher Placements

Union representatives say any changes need to be negotiated.


In a 6-0 vote Tuesday night, the School Committee approved a new personnel policy that eliminates using senority as the sole criteria for teacher hiring and placement. 

Committeewoman Mary Ellen Winter was absent.

School Committee Chair David Green said the action came in an effort to align EGSD policy with the state Department of Education's Basic Education Program, or BEP. The BEP calls for "an effective human capital management system," according to a 2009 letter from Education Commissioner Deborah Gist to superintendents.

In that letter, Gist highlighted the language in the BEP (which was enacted by Gist's predecessor, Peter McWalter) that reads, "each LEA shall maintain control of its ability to recruit, hire, manage, evaluate and assign its personnel." (An LEA is a "local education agency," or school district.)

On Tuesday, committee member Susan Records expressed some reservations about the new policy. In particular, she said she was concerned about how teachers would be prepared for what she called a "drastic change" in the hiring and placement process. 

"I’m just looking for how we can keep [teachers] motivated going forward," Records said, whose son, Matt Records, is a teacher in the district. "I don’t see that in the policy. But do we have any supporting policies? And what kind of communications have we made with our current staff on this drastic change?"

Committee member Deidre Gifford responded, noting there had been a panel of administrators and teachers – the Commission on Teaching Excellence – working for 18 months on these issues.

"Our charge was to look at the BEP next to the current contract and call out places where there was language where the two weren’t aligned. One of the recommendations that came out of that process was essentially mirroring the BEP language that said that seniority would be a consideration but not the sole consideration in hiring. So there was that whole 18-month process where there was back and forth [between the administration and the union]," Gifford said.

Among the new criteria to be considered when hiring or placing a teacher are educational background and certification; professional experience; past job performance; interview performance; evidence of effectiveness as measured by student academic growth; and duration and scope of professional experience. 

Union co-president Donna Hayes, a library media specialist at Frenchtown School, told the School Committee that setting policy was not the same as collective bargaining.

"Although the Basic Education Program regulation reaffirms that optimal student learning is the main criteria of all school departments, the procedure through which this is achieved, for teacher selection and retention, must be collectively bargained," she said read from a prepared statement. "If any changes need to be negotiated to optimize student learning, they will bargained in good faith at that time."

The teachers' contract expires Aug. 31. Negotiations on a new contract are set to begin in coming weeks.

"The policy does not need to be collectively bargained. The contract needs to be collectively bargained," said School Committee Chairman David Green after the meeting. "We’re simply following that which has the force of law. The BEP – RIDE regulations – have the force of law in Rhode Island. The policy now complies with the statute."

Green continued: "Our process ... is to ensure that our policies are consistent with Rhode Island regulations. We’ve done that tonight.... I think everything we approved in the policy will be reflected in the contract but the policy is the backbone. It’s the standard. And there’s many different ways to get to that standard. That will be the subject of many lively conversations within the negotiation sessions."

Heather Larkin January 10, 2013 at 11:21 PM
My point is that it's not a logical argument, not to come down on one side or the other.
Leo January 11, 2013 at 12:23 AM
"duration and scope?" Duration sounds like seniority. And scope??? Just who is going to measure that?
Heather Tibbitts January 11, 2013 at 12:30 AM
Long long ago, there was a student sit-in at EGHS in support of history teacher Jim Etchells. He challenged his students to think for themselves and look at all sides of an argument. He required critical thinking skills and a willingness to "push back." He remains one of the most influential teachers in my educational experience, and yet he was "bumped" from the HS spot to make room for a more senior teacher returning from a 2-year leave (pursing a failed business adventure, if memory serves). While I'm sure the students at the Jr. High enjoyed his dynamic teaching, the HS students lost an influential educator who was able to engage the older students in a way few can. I am glad that placing teachers according to the best interests of the students is now the priority. I applaud this new policy.
B January 11, 2013 at 03:45 PM
cost/benefit analysis: "Costs of Eliminating Tenure: Increase exponentially the potential for abuse of teachers. Turn schools into patronage machines. Discourage good candidates from becoming teachers. Jam the courts with wrongful dismissal cases. Potentially fire good teachers for bad reasons. Benefits of Eliminating Tenure: Easier to fire small number of teachers who should be fired. That's it. Is there a way to get this benefit without eliminating tenure? You bet: streamline the dismissal process. Cap the time for a dismissal and appeals at 90 days. Send the cases to arbitrators who specialize in teacher dismissals. You'll cap costs and make it much easier to dismiss these hypothetical "bad" teachers." Source: Jersey Jazzman
B January 11, 2013 at 04:46 PM
If EG wants to evaluate teachers by the growth of students they might be in violation of Rhode Island law. This can not be part of an effective human capital management system because growth tests are not designed to tell what part of the growth is attributable to the teacher.

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