Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Millions spent to pay teachers not to teach; why not spend the money on evaluation so bad teachers can be fired and good teachers protected?

When Schools Pay Teachers Not to Teach
Voice of San Diego
June 30, 2009

Lynne Holyoke knew her principal wanted to fire her. The retired art teacher said the two had often sparred over her teaching style. But instead, Holyoke said the school district made her an offer: Take a year off with pay and resign at the end of it. Holyoke agreed and spent the year on paid administrative leave, doing art therapy, volunteering and mulling her future...

Holyoke is not the only educator who has been pulled from her classroom but paid nonetheless. Fifty-six educators have been put on paid administrative leave in San Diego Unified over the last six years, taken out of their ordinary jobs but kept on the payroll for anywhere from a few days to more than four years.

Some teachers have been accused of crimes or inappropriate behavior and are removed from their classes until the charges are proven or disproven. Some are awaiting hearings that decide whether they will be fired. A small number are suffering medical problems.

And others such as Holyoke are paid as part of a settlement to avoid the expensive process of firing them, especially when the cases against them are difficult to prove in court.

School district attorney Mark Bresee said that teachers sometimes make formal pacts -- agreeing to resign in exchange for staying on paid leave for a fixed time -- and sometimes simply agree informally to resign after time...

While still uncommon in the sprawling school district, the frequency of paid administrative leave has increased significantly in the past two years, along with its costs. Estimates done by based on data provided by the school district found that the practice cost more than $2.1 million over the past six years. Costs have risen from an eventual payout of an estimated $262,000 for three teachers put on leave in the 2003-2004 school year to more than $716,000 -- and counting -- for 26 educators in 2008-2009.

Staffers call the uptick a fluke and say that school district practices haven't changed. Pulling educators from their jobs but keeping them paid has many purposes: It removes teachers, counselors and administrators who are suspected of foul play from the classroom, separates employees when harassment is alleged, and ensures that workers are not penalized for allegations that go nowhere. Human resources and legal staffers, not principals, must approve the decision for leave.

"If we have people that we fear are not good for kids, we want to make sure that they're not working with kids," said Tim Asfazadour, a human resources officer.

It is sometimes mandated by California law, which limits the circumstances when teachers are pulled without pay. Attorneys said it can also be cheaper than firing educators, an extensive process during which teachers are typically still on the payroll...

"This is just wrong," said William Wright, vice chairman of San Diego Unified's audit and finance committee, when told about the practice of buyouts. "It's just happening because it's so hard to fire somebody. They're buying them off with the taxpayers' money."..

"If a principal has an issue with a teacher, they can accomplish their goal of getting rid of them," Holyoke said. "If they really mean to get you out, it's just too tortuous (for teachers) to go through."

Unlike the notorious "rubber rooms" in New York City, where hundreds of teachers under investigation sit idle, Asfazadour said that San Diego Unified educators on paid leave are usually still working, if not in their usual jobs. Some evaluate books or file supplies in a lending library for teachers, others work in the cafeteria or do data entry...

Asfazadour said the recent increase consisted of cases involving accusations that needed to be investigated, not settlements...

Teachers are often put on paid leave when someone accuses them of a crime or inappropriate behavior...Investigations are done by city or school police detectives and can be lengthy: One teacher accused of choking a student has been out on leave for more than nine months. Others end quickly.

"A child said something happened and they called in a police officer and investigated," said Donna Chateau, a retired teacher who was put on leave for less than two weeks before returning to the classroom...

Other employees are put on paid leave not because of alleged crimes, but because they are in the pipeline to be fired... actual firings are extraordinarily rare in San Diego Unified... A teacher would not lose pay until that commission ruled against them...

Petersen said cases where a teacher is seen doing something egregious, such as hitting a child, tend to be easier to wrap up and end without a buyout. The most expensive cases tend to be when principals argue that teachers are just not very good at their jobs. Holyoke, for example, said her teaching was criticized. Her story was echoed by several other teachers and counselors who said they were being paid to resign after clashing with principals, but declined to give their names.

Holyoke's former principal, Susan Levy, said she couldn't talk about what happened with the teacher because of employee confidentiality. Nor was Levy aware of what occurred after the human resources department stepped in to handle things after Holyoke had left; the teacher said she took a stress leave.

"They always say, 'We'll take care of it,'" Levy said.


Discouraged Temp Teachers
By Jeff Claybaugh, San Diego
June 22, 2009 |

I read your article about "The Disposable Teacher" and wanted to tell you that it is spot on.

I graduated from the University of the Pacific in 2002 with a degree in music (and a teaching credential). My dream was to be a successful band/choir director, engaging kids' minds using the arts. My first job was in Central California, and after learning lots (and signing kids up for next year's classes), I was pink-slipped in March. Being new to the education system, I did not quite understand how the administrative process worked, and so I went along with it. What bothered me most about this was that the administration led me to believe that I had nothing to worry about, because all temp teachers go through this every year, and would be rehired without issue. Well, long story short, I received a phone call during the summer break and was told that the budget didn't allow for a music teacher position and that the program was cut. It was completely demoralizing. Hard work did not pay off. And now that the school season was to start again soon, I had to scramble to find another teaching position.

This happened again at the next location where I found work. Same pink slip, same waiting to hear about the budget, same phone call. Again, I was completely heart-broken and decided that I could not work in that type of system, where your position is decided not on success or quality, but solely on available funding. I am now working in a software business where I am valued and have been working regularly for almost 4 years. Although I miss the teaching aspect of my dream, I have security and am valued for my contributions...


I agree that teaching ability, not seniority, should be the deciding factor in who gets laid off. Unfortunately, even if a decision were made to lay off the poorest-performing teachers, it would be impossible to do so because the current teacher evaluation system is a joke. If teachers were examined as exhaustively as kids, we wouldn't be having the problems we have.

Posted by Maura Larkins | reply to this comment
June 24, 2009 3:59 pm

And how is one to judge a teacher's merit? As it is now in SDUSD's evaluation process, it's up to ONE person -- a princpal (or sometimes vice-principal). Is a teacher to be laid off because the perception of one person (the principal) is that she is an ineffective teacher? At charter schools where most teachers are not union, I've often seen it happen that teachers who go against the grain and stand up for curriculum or for students against the wishes of a principal or CEO (yes, charters have CEOs), are fired. The state legislature passed laws that called for teacher layoffs to be based on seniority -- not "merit" -- perhaps to prevent this very thing from happening in our schools! Bad teachers can be disciplined and, with due process, fired. That's good enough. Let's not base layoffs on "merit."

Posted by MMT | reply to this comment
June 29, 2009 11:41 am

I agree completely. There is no system in place to accurately evaluate teachers. Certainly the current system in which principals evaluate teachers is a joke. A reliable evaluation would need to involve observers not involved in school or district politics--perhaps from outside the district. Regular observations, well-documented, would be needed. This would be a great learning experience for evaluators as well as those being evaluated. I also think teacher interviews, in which teachers could explain what they have learned and how their thinking has evolved, should be part of the process.

Posted by Maura Larkins | reply to this comment
June 30, 2009 3:28 pm

Actually, I disagree with MMT about one thing. MMT says, "Bad teachers can be disciplined and, with due process, fired. That's good enough." The current system is most certainly NOT good enough. Teachers are rarely fired for incompetence (it was the reason only about 20% of the time according to the Los Angeles Times series "Failure Gets a Pass"). Usually the reason is political. Another frequent cause of teacher firings is moral turpitude. As long as incompetent teachers make friends with the right people, they are usually safe. This is one of the reasons that schools are such hotbeds of personal politics, and it's a reason many incompetent teachers become administrators. In many occupations, seniority is a perfectly reasonable and sensible method to determine who gets laid off, but in teaching, competence should matter.

Posted by Maura Larkins | reply to this comment
June 30, 2009 3:28 pm

The inconvenient truth is the seniority system has yielded a state rank of 34th in student education and 1st in teacher salaries. Both the state legislature and school board except copious amounts of campaign funding from the CTA and teachers receive the highest pay in the country. The children of California give no money to the state legislature and the school boards and receive the 34th best education in the U.S.

Posted by RB | reply to this comment
July 1, 2009 7:48 am

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