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Teacher reshuffling could have been challenged by teachers
Subj:      [Mpls] Teacher reshuffling could have been stopped by teachers
Date:     8/22/2004 4:10:29 PM Central Daylight Time
From:     Socialist2001@cs.com
Sender:     mpls-bounces@mnforum.org
To:     mpls@mnforum.org

IT MAY NOT BE TOO LATE FOR SOME TEACHERS TO ACT

"The school board is a policy-making body responsible for selecting the superintendent and overseeing the District's budget, curriculum, personnel and facilities..." - Minneapolis Public Schools web site.

The board approved a massive realignment process that included the involuntary reassignment of 140 high-seniority elementary teachers to Special Ed and other areas. This is certainly not an effective use of the district's teaching talent: It will reduce the overall quality of instruction. And it is certainly not good for the kids. (Everything is done for the sake of "the kids," of course.)

Board members say the district is a victim of an outdated labor law, the Teacher Tenure Act, which doesn't give the board much flexibility when it comes to firing teachers.  However, as I will show, the Teacher Tenure Act did not require the district to massively reshuffle its teaching staff.  Board members are calling on the legislature to reform the Minnesota Teacher Tenure Act. "No Child Left Behind" requires school district's to negotiate changes in teacher's contracts that will give the administration greater flexibility in firing teachers.

The district says it has an obligation to preserve the employment of tenured teachers, and does not claim to have an obligation to save the jobs of probationary teachers. I have asked the district to provide information that demonstrates the need to "realign" tenured teachers in order to save the jobs of other
tenured teachers, including the number of positions to be cut, resignations / retirements, and probationary teachers in each area (elementary classroom, high school English, Special Ed, etc.)

For the following reasons, it appears that the realignment process was carried out in order to preserve the employment of probationary teachers (hired within the past 3 years), not tenured teachers:

We are told that some jobs were saved as a result of the "realignment process."  However, that process is a zero sum game of musical chairs. The district merely shifted the burden of laying off teachers from one area to others.

Before the realignment plan was worked out (during the last weekend of June), board member Sharon Henry Blythe and others raised concerns that most of the new elementary school teachers were going to get laid off because of the projected decline in enrollment. The realignment process was evidently designed to save most of those at-risk jobs at the request of board members.

Realigned teachers have been advised by board members that they can get back into elementary classroom positions in the fall of 2005, and that they can bump elementary school teachers if they get rid of their other teaching licenses. If that is true, the district must be saving the jobs of some probationary teachers this year who will remain on probation for another year, because only probationary teachers may be bumped or laid off to save the job of a tenured teacher.

[And I doubt that the district is obliged to "realign" any teacher, even probationary teachers, in order to  preserve the employment of a teacher who ditches a teaching license needed for the position they currently hold. Teachers should be allowed to bid for any job they are qualified for.  I am not in favor of allowing teachers to  "bump" less senior teachers, including probationary teachers, whenever they want to move from one area to another, one building to another, or one position to another within the same area of licensure.]

The administration said that it was necessary to realign 140 high-seniority elementary school teachers to save the jobs of about 150 tenured teachers who got layoff notices, but only 92 of those teachers were holding elementary classroom positions.   

The district fired a total of 608 teachers (which is far more than necessary), all hired within the past 5 years, including about 450 probationary teachers (hired within the past 3 years). That works out to about one probationary teacher for every 4 regular, full-time, teacher positions budgeted for the 2003-2004 school year.

Given that upwards of 500 teacher positions were eliminated due to falling enrollment and class size increases within the past 5 years, one may assume that about 1,000 teachers were terminated within the past 5 years, an average of 200 per year due to quits / retirements and firings.

From October 1998 to October 2003, enrollment fell by about 6,000 in the elementary grades (K-4) and increased in middle school and high school grades. I would expect that fewer than 150 of the 450 probationary teachers employed with the district in the spring of 2004 were elementary school teachers.

The district is cutting 210.8 full time teacher positions, (Source: 2004-2005 budget highlights, page 3 of the printed version distributed at the June 29 board meeting)

Compared to the 2003-2004 budget, the 2004-2005 budget cut 214 positions from program 200, K-12 regular instruction, which reflects a projected enrollment decrease of 4600 students. Given that average class sizes are not to change, one can infer that the bulk of the enrollment decline continues to be
concentrated in the elementary grades because the early elementary school student / teacher ratio is 21 to 1, and 4600 divided by 214 = 21.5.  

TEACHERS COULD HAVE BLOCKED THE REALIGNMENTS

The window of opportunity for teachers to challenge the legality of the realignment process is closed, or almost closed. Teachers have 15 calendar days to appeal reassignments from the time they get the notices, and some of the notices went out around the time of the August 10 school board meeting.

The district is likely to reverse decisions to realign particular teachers who seek administrative relief, if a small number of teachers take that step, in order to avoid having to deal with any formal challenges of the realignment process that could go to Court.

With the exception of parents of Special Ed students who would be denied a safe environment due to inadequately trained teachers, other interested parties could not easily convince a judge that they have standing to sue the district, in my opinion.  The allegation that serious harm might be done to other
students is likely to be disputed by the district, and dismissed by the Judge as a matter of speculation.

A group of realigned teachers hired Gregg Corwin to "sue" the district, but the "lawsuit"  does not allege any violation of the contract or Teacher Tenure Act. It merely asks for the Court to review the district's actions, and for that the district's cooperation is needed. Corwin advised the teachers of a conflict of interest before he took their money. Corwin works with a school employees union and other labor unions, and could face retaliation if he steps on the toes of teachers' union officials and labor endorsed school board members
(and candidates for the school board).

-Doug Mann, King Field
Mann for School Board
www.educationright.com