Archive for Monday, March 15, 2010

Teachers unsure of next assignment

Budget cuts mean district likely to shuffle educators around


Amanda Vail, a second-grade teacher at Prairie Park school, quizzes her students on toads and frogs in class on Thursday. Vail, who is completing her third year in the district, isn’t sure where, or whether, she’ll be teaching in the district next year because of budget cuts.

Amanda Vail, a second-grade teacher at Prairie Park school, quizzes her students on toads and frogs in class on Thursday. Vail, who is completing her third year in the district, isn’t sure where, or whether, she’ll be teaching in the district next year because of budget cuts.

March 15, 2010

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School board cuts affect some teachers

The cuts made by the Lawrence school board will cost some teachers who haven't been in the profession for very long. Enlarge video

Amanda Vail was named one of the state’s outstanding first-year teachers last school year.

Now, Vail and 188 other Lawrence teachers who haven’t yet earned tenure are waiting to learn the fallout from the district’s budget cuts, which could affect where they teach or whether they even have jobs in the district.

“Morale is definitely down, just with so many things up in the air,” said Vail, a second-grade teacher at Prairie Park School.

District leaders this week started evaluating the effects of the $4.6 million in cuts board members made Tuesday night. The decision to increase the student-teacher ratio by one student will cut 21 teaching jobs, and gutting the learning coach program means some of the district’s more experienced teachers will return to the classroom.

As of last week, 30 Lawrence teachers filed paperwork to retire or resign at the end of the year, and district leaders have said attrition will help absorb some of the job cuts, but not all of them.

“Hopefully we won’t have to lay off very many based on the level of retirements that we have, but that’s something that we anticipate that we’ll need to do,” said David Cunningham, the district’s division director of human resources for certified staff.

Pieces of a puzzle

Cunningham, his staff members and school principals are now evaluating several things.

The one-student increase to the ratio means the district needs 21 fewer teachers for next year, but each class won’t get one more student. It will affect some schools more than others based on enrollment, and it depends more on the size of each grade level in each school. For example, a school projected to have three second-grade classes might only have two classes.

Other programs and positions that were cut will have a ripple effect across the district. If learning coaches, for example, have attained tenure, they would return to the classroom and likely bump a teacher who hasn’t been with the district long enough. Learning coaches are experienced teachers who mentor novice teachers.

There are 13 learning coaches, although some don’t have tenure in the district. Their positions next year are not guaranteed.

Basically, a teacher earns tenure once they start their fourth consecutive year with the district. Teachers who have attained tenure in another district can earn it in Lawrence at the start of their third year.

Karen Wycoff, New York School’s library media specialist, earned tenure as a teacher and librarian in De Soto, and she has already attained tenure in Lawrence. Due to the district’s library staff cuts, she might return to the classroom next year in Lawrence.

“I’m still up in the air, but I do have a job, so I’m thankful for that,” she said.

The district has about 950 certified staff members — mostly teachers but this includes other positions like counselors and librarians.

The process is complex because the number of retirees and nontenured teachers varies among the schools.

Prairie Park has three teachers who don’t have tenure, including Vail, and no teachers there are expected to retire. Principal David Williams said the school in southeastern Lawrence is projected to lose two teaching positions due to the ratio increase, and he doesn’t yet know if a teacher, like a former learning coach, will gain a position in the building.

“It completely changes the makeup of your building, and that’s a difficult part,” said Williams. He said job losses would also be difficult, and he wouldn’t want to see anyone lose a job but knows it’s likely.

Retirements and resignations will create openings at other schools. At Lawrence High School, Principal Matt Brungardt said as of now five classroom teachers will depart. How they will be replaced depends on the factors up in the air across the district.

“There’s a number of different scenarios,” Brungardt said. “It’s like putting a puzzle together, and we have to figure out how this all works.”

Statewide effects

As some Lawrence teachers face the possibility of job losses, the state’s budget crisis has compounded the problem for the profession because nearly all districts are going through cuts right now.

Tiffany Wambsganss, who will graduate from Kansas University in May, is a student-teacher in Vail’s second-grade classroom right now. She said districts in the area aren’t hiring, and others across the state have told prospective employees they might not get a call to come teach there until August, just before school starts.

She’s also worried as more experienced teachers get laid off.

“They would get hired before a beginning teacher,” Wambsganss said.

She faces the possibility of working as a substitute teacher until the field opens up.

“This year it’s more challenging because other districts are experiencing the same budgetary challenges,” Cunningham said. “There would be fewer jobs and more people looking for jobs, so it will be difficult.”

The Lawrence Education Association, which represents certified staff, and the district plan to offer workshops soon on résumé writing and other employment tips for staff members who face job losses.

Valerie Johnson-Powell, the LEA’s president, said the programs and support cuts the district has made means that teachers and school staff members will have to take on larger workloads. She’s also worried about the lasting effects of the state’s budget crisis, especially for younger teachers.

“We know there’s a teacher shortage. I believe this is going to make it an even larger shortage,” Johnson-Powell said.

Vail left the banking profession to become a teacher. As she waits to find out what next year will look for her, she says the budget cuts will put more pressure on teachers.

“It really affects the quality of the education,” Vail said. “The biggest challenge is to try to swallow that and feel like you’re still doing a good job.”

Comments

texburgh 5 years, 4 months ago

Amanda Vail has proven that she is an excellent teacher. The district could hold on to her by using the flexibility they have to grant her "tenure" right now. Of course, they won't even though they can because the only flexibility school administrators want is the flexibility to fire teachers without having to give a reason. Too bad the district doesn't think enough of Amanda to say, "We want you to stay and we are going to make sure you do."

ECM 5 years, 4 months ago

Why in the world is tenure granted to ANY public school teacher?

lynn3 5 years, 4 months ago

Remember the district may still have to cut 3 million dollars before the end of the school year. This was mentioned by Morgan at the end of the board meeting. If this happens, we may be looking at additional FTE cuts to save 1 or 2 million. This article helps to explain what those cuts might look like across the district but ask your individual principal how those cuts will happen. At the elementary level, teachers will either be cut entirely from the district or moved. At the secondary level, it may mean entire departments (non core) are gutted. Look around your school building. Who do you want to live without? Your sons favorite third grade teacher who just does not happen to have tenrue in our district?

Texburgh, the district does not want to cut teachers. They invest so much and are the districts future. When the mass numbers of teachers retire in the next ten years, we need a trained staff to replace them. If teachers like Vail, return to banking, we all lose, especially the district administrators who have to eventally hire and replace her. Principals are deeply pained by these difficult decisions. They DON'T want teachers to lose their jobs.

lynn3 5 years, 4 months ago

Remember the district may still have to cut 3 million dollars before the end of the school year. This was mentioned by Morgan at the end of the board meeting. If this happens, we may be looking at additional FTE cuts to save 1 or 2 million. This article helps to explain what those cuts might look like across the district but ask your individual principal how those cuts will happen. At the elementary level, teachers will either be cut entirely from the district or moved. At the secondary level, it may mean entire departments (non core) are gutted. Look around your school building. Who do you want to live without? Your sons favorite third grade teacher who just does not happen to have tenrue in our district?

Texburgh, the district does not want to cut teachers. They invest so much and are the districts future. When the mass numbers of teachers retire in the next ten years, we need a trained staff to replace them. If teachers like Vail, return to banking, we all lose, especially the district administrators who have to eventally hire and replace her. Principals are deeply pained by these difficult decisions. They DON'T want teachers to lose their jobs.

imastinker 5 years, 4 months ago

I have to agree with ECM. Tenure at a public school is a very bad thing. All of my worst teachers (except one) had tenure.

nascar 5 years, 4 months ago

Tenure at public schools works this way. In the first three years of employment a secondary teacher will have taught at least 2500 lessons/ classes. An elementary teacher will have taught even more. A principal must be available and actually observe the new teacher a set number of times. When this doesn't happen... an ineffective/poor teacher can slip under the radar. This is not a fault of the big, bad union. This is a fault of an administrator not doing their job.
Secondly, an ineffective, poor tenured teacher can keep their job if an administrator does not do the necessary work to evaluate that teacher and put them on an improvement plan. This can/does occur when the administrator is in the building and is actually a frequent observer in the classroom. Again, not the fault of the big, bad union but the reality of an administrator not doing their job. Thirdly, a tenured teacher can be be protected from a less than effective administrator, board member, angry parent by a well written contract. This is the reality in some small communities where a favored child is not given the lead role in the school play or on a sports team.

imastinker 5 years, 4 months ago

Nascar - why is it then that I don't have tenure at my job to protect me from an angry customer or two?

You make it sound like those situations are unique to the Public School system. In reality, the Public School system's mission is to create and preserve jobs, not to educate kids.

Teachers should make more money. I believe very strongly that they would if the union didn't fight EVERY move the school district makes, and the school district didn't use every extra penny to build another building or hire some other administrator. Teacher's aren't paid for performance and only get a raise for not being bad enough to get fired for another year or going back to school. Raises are in no way related to effectiveness or ability.

avoice 5 years, 4 months ago

nascar fails to mention that the whole process can work in the other direction as well. A poorly-performing teacher who is a "favored" person him/herself can be undeservedly given tenure by an administrator and school system. This, too, occurs quite often in smaller communities where there is rampant nepotism and buddy-promotion generation upon generation.

mom_of_three 5 years, 4 months ago

This was the story 5 or 6 years ago when the original school cuts began. Probably could find the article online. Prairie Park once again had very gifted teachers on the chopping block. That year, the best teachers were saved. If only it could happen again.

waswade 5 years, 4 months ago

Tenure just means years on the job. I know of several administrators doing half-ass jobs of evaluating teachers and keeping poor teachers stay on. If they did their jobs right the each principal could cut a couple ineffective teachers and save us all.

KSManimal 5 years, 4 months ago

texburgh (anonymous) says… "The district could hold on to her by using the flexibility they have to grant her "tenure" right now."

No, they couldn't. "Tenure" (and that isn't the correct term...) is established by state statute, not individual school districts.

The whole concept of cutting all the "lousy" teachers....and tenure standing in the way of that....is flawed for many reasons.....But, perhaps the biggest reason is that it's based on the assumption that there is a big line of qualified teachers just waiting to fill those positions...but they can't because of all the dead wood.

False! Nationally, there is a shortage of teachers; and more than half of new teachers leave the profession within the first five years; AND about 40% of NEW licensed college graduates choose to never enter the profession in the first place.

Gee, you'd think such an under-worked and over-paid profession would have a surplus, not a shortage.......

tomatogrower 5 years, 4 months ago

waswade is right. There is a way of getting rid of bad teachers. All the administrators have to do is give them poor evaluations. They have to go through due process. And it isn't as hard as getting rid of a college professor. The "tenure" that teachers earn just means that they have to give a reason to fire a teacher, and that reason can't be, because they flunked a school board member's son for being too lazy to turn in their work. But most administrators don't seem willing to evaluate teachers honestly. And some don't get rid of bad teachers even in their first couple of years, when they don't even have to give an excuse. I'm not sure why. Maybe the teacher is a good coach; sports are all important you know. Or maybe they don't want the work of finding a new teacher. Also, I refuse to take only the word of a student that a teacher is bad. Some students think that a good teacher is one who never makes them work.

GmaD321 5 years, 4 months ago

Trim the fat from the top-administrators, etc. Let them take pay cuts to help make it work. Don't cheat our kids.

imastinker 5 years, 4 months ago

There is no national shortage of teachers. My sister spent a lot of time trying to get her job this year. She said she was one of over a hundred applicants for her position.

I think she is a very good teacher. If the district cuts back she will be one of the first to be let go, only because when the teachers who have been there longer were hired there was a teacher shortage.

I'll say it again. The union and tenure are not for the good teachers or for the students. They are there to protect the bad teachers and the system.

ssakcaj 5 years, 4 months ago

Let's look at imastinker's comment again, "There is no national shortage of teachers. My sister spent a lot of time trying to get her job this year. She said she was one of over a hundred applicants for her position."

One thing that the teacher's union, or for that matter fire and police unions as well, always threatens is if that they don't get their raises their employees will go somewhere else usually Johnson County. And to that I say, go ahead. How many jobs do you think there are in Johnson County? Let everyone who wants to go there go. There, now that Johnson County has taken everyone they wanted, the people left here can now work for a rate of pay we can afford.

One of the classic tenets of management is that if an employee threatens to leave as a negotiating tool then you let them because how can you trust them to stay. Once you let them hold you hostage, then from now on, you are no longer in charge, they are.

Several years ago Wesseman (sp) threatend to leave if the school board attempted any more cuts. The board caved in and after that was neutered in dealing with him.

If you want to leave for more money, then leave. We aren't, can't actually, going to get into a bidding war with Johnson County.

multiagelearner 5 years, 4 months ago

This story isn't a save Amanda Vail's job request. It is to bring light to the fact that when the SONS managed to scare the board into keeping inefficient schools open more teachers lost their jobs. The last statements from Mr. Morgan were lost amid the cheers from the SONS and Band supports who were cheering. He went on to say that most likely there will be deeper cuts and that we won't know just how much until June or possibly July. There are cases to be made to save special first, second, or third year teachers throughout the district. The truth that some administrators do not do the right thing because the person is a nice individual or they think the will get better. The first years of teaching is when you are showing your best, and so if at that point they aren't meeting expectations, why would you give them another chance. Certainly by year three they have either improved or they are out the door.
The district was up front about the personnel problems if the schools were not closed and the student ratio goes up by one, two or three. They haven't even cut 5 million yet and when the state's revenue comes in extremely short, the picture will get much more scary. Thank you SONS!

deskboy04 5 years, 4 months ago

I didn't think that teachers got "tenure" in Kansas. I thought that it was that after so long they got the right to due process.

gatekeeper 5 years, 4 months ago

imastinker (anonymous) says… There is no national shortage of teachers. My sister spent a lot of time trying to get her job this year. She said she was one of over a hundred applicants for her position.

I think she is a very good teacher. If the district cuts back she will be one of the first to be let go, only because when the teachers who have been there longer were hired there was a teacher shortage.

I'll say it again. The union and tenure are not for the good teachers or for the students. They are there to protect the bad teachers and the system. /////////

Stinker is correct. My first degree was a teaching degree. I never went on to teach because once I was in the schools doing my student teaching I saw that a lot of the older, tenured teachers pretty much sucked. The younger teachers were usually working their bums off. All this for very low pay, long hours and little respect.

Every 10 years or so we hear about how they need teachers so badly because of all the retiring teachers. They said that over 20 years ago when I got my degree. They were saying it 10 years ago. B.S. I'm still in contact with a lot of the people I went to school with. Most of them left the profession because of lack of jobs, bad pay and low respect. The jobs that end up available are in bad neighborhoods for very low pay. The stress is so bad that most don't stay. When jobs are available, they aren't in the schools most want to teach in.

My sister-in-law got lucky and works for a private school. The teachers are held to very high standards because the parents pay $10K per year per kid. Only great teachers are hired who get high pay and lots of respect. Needless to say, they don't have high turn over rates like the public schools and the kids are all performing above average.

KawHawk 5 years, 4 months ago

Tenured school teachers aren't the problem.

Tenured college professors are. Imagine being guaranteed a job for the rest of your lefi, with essentially no one able to take it away, and you can pretty much do anything you want ? Don't wanna teach ? Set the class size limit to zero (I know a prof who did this). Run an outside business that has nothing to do with your university position, using university resources ? That happened too. Get the university to buy you a new home computer ? Sure. Make the university pay for your vacation trips ? You bet. It all happened. And every seven years you can get a "sabbatical", which means you do whatever you want for a semester or even a whole year.

And they can never fire you, even if you're lazy, irrelevant, obstructive, unpleasant, or no longer needed.

imastinker 5 years, 4 months ago

gatekeeper - I'm real sorry to hear that. Based on that comment alone I think I'd be glad to have you teaching my children.

I still recall the best teacher I ever had. He had an degree in a very lucrative field and left it to teach. His salary was likely less than a quarter what he would be making otherwise. He taught chemistry and physics. What he was paid was criminal.

What bothers me most is that he got paid just as much as the PE teacher that showed up at 7:59 and left at 3:01.

KawHawk 5 years, 4 months ago

"What bothers me most is that he got paid just as much as the PE teacher that showed up at 7:59 and left at 3:01. "

PE teachers are pretty much useless, anyway. Mine used to just throw some balls in the gym, then go back in their office and smoke. Occasionaly they'd troll the showers and drool over the students....

imastinker 5 years, 4 months ago

I didn't mean to bash PE teachers - but they don't grade papers or make lesson plans. They literally only work the amount of time they are in school unless they coach.

MyName 5 years, 4 months ago

I think pretty much all of the people complaining about the tenure system in Kansas don't know what they're talking about. It doesn't mean the same thing as it does in larger cities (like NYC or Chicago). All it means in Kansas is you have seniority (which is part of the union rules, and means you can bump people who don't have tenure if they cut your job) and that you have the right to a fair hearing before you can be dismissed.

The seniority part is not really fair to the young teachers, in many ways, but it's in place so that the district can't just cut costs by laying off all of the experienced teachers (who earn higher salaries) and replace them with new teachers.

The largest complaints with the way the Teacher's union works are from people in other states where they have tougher union contracts and things like the reserve board exist for teachers. The big difference is that in Kansas the Teacher's unions weren't interested in those, or they simply lost out and didn't get them put into the contract.

And my best teachers were the ones who had been there for a very long time and knew their stuff, but I think it didn't have as much to do with the tenure system as it did with the fact that they really enjoyed their job and put alot of time and effort into it.

texburgh 5 years, 4 months ago

deskboy04 says, "I didn't think that teachers got "tenure" in Kansas. I thought that it was that after so long they got the right to due process." You are right. Tenure is available at universities but not in the k-12 system. The only thing a teacher gets in Kansas is the right to be told WHY they are being let go and to challenge that as arbitrary and capricious or that there is no evidence to support the claim in a hearing. Most hearings go against the teacher.

KSManimal says, "No, they couldn't. "Tenure" (and that isn't the correct term...) is established by state statute, not individual school districts." Yes, due process is established in statute and says a teacher gets due process upon being offered a fourth contract. But the statute also allows the district to grant due process before that IF THE DISTRICT chooses. They don't choose. Ever.

gatekeeper says, "I think she is a very good teacher. If the district cuts back she will be one of the first to be let go, only because when the teachers who have been there longer were hired there was a teacher shortage." Your opinion of your sister is irrelevant. In a decision about who stays, there are many things that rule - the license you hold, for example. You are right that the more experienced teachers will likely be kept - partly because they have due process rights and partly because experience does make an employee more effective. Teacher shortages have nothing to do with any of this. People aren't kept on because they were hired during a shortage. Your sister might really be a great teacher. Unfortunately she is an inexperienced teacher (if she is in her first three years). The union and so-called "tenure" have nothing to do with her being let go or not finding a job. A legislature that shirks its responsibility to provide for the best possible education system is.

gatekeeper also says, "I'll say it again. The union and tenure are not for the good teachers or for the students. They are there to protect the bad teachers and the system." Once your sister gets a job and does achieve "tenure," what will your feelings be? I'll bet there will come a time when your sister (if not you) are very thankful for the union and her due process protections.

It is very sad to see so many clueless people posting here. People who get their thoughts from whatever anti-public education pundit USA Today or Fox News can find. And, by the way, I'm not a teacher. I'm just a guy who follows issues and likes to check the facts before weighing in.

Kathy Gates 5 years, 4 months ago

And then there are people like me...an experienced educator with 19 years of experience who left another district to come to Lawrence. Silly me, I thought teaching in the community where I lived would be a good thing. I wanted to make a difference in the town where I lived. With the budget situation, I'm right there with the twenty-something teacher fresh out of college with no experience as far as the tenure rules go. That's what I get for wanting to live and work in the same community.

tomatogrower 5 years, 4 months ago

My sister-in-law got lucky and works for a private school. The teachers are held to very high standards because the parents pay $10K per year per kid. Only great teachers are hired who get high pay and lots of respect. Needless to say, they don't have high turn over rates like the public schools and the kids are all performing above average

And your sister has no protection. If one of her rich clients decides they don't like the grade their kid got and if they donated enough money to the school, she would be gone, no reason given, good or not. And of course the students are performing above average, and the teachers make good money. They spend twice as much on their student's education than Kansas does. They obviously think education is important, and if the students don't do what they are told or keep up a grade average, they are probably put on suspension, then thrown out. Public schools educate everyone, even those who post here who hate teachers and education. If a student is failing it's never the student's fault. It's the teacher's fault. They aren't allowed to tell a student who refuses to work to leave school and don't come back. I"m glad your sister has a pug job, and hopefully administrators who honestly assess teachers, and get rid of the bad one. Blame bad teachers on administrators who aren't doing their job. They can get rid of bad teachers if they want.

geekyhost 5 years, 4 months ago

Private school outcomes are generally the same as public school outcomes - when you account for socioeconomic status and parental education. Catholic schools do perform slightly better, though, and much of that may just be because it's a self-selected group with better parental involvement.

Also, pay for private school teachers is typically lower, not higher. Generally, private school teachers earn 10-15k less per year.

All of that aside, Amanda Vail is a fantastic teacher, and it will be a real shame if she has to go because local government is afraid to just raise our stinking taxes to pay for necessary services. We can put off building things. We can't put off educating kids.

tomatogrower 5 years, 4 months ago

geekyhost All of that aside, Amanda Vail is a fantastic teacher, and it will be a real shame if she has to go because local government is afraid to just raise our stinking taxes to pay for necessary services. We can put off building things. We can't put off educating kids.

It's not the local government. It's the state. I just came from the rally in Topeka. Lots of people there. They better get the message, whether it's a 1 cent sales tax or a soda tax.

geekyhost 5 years, 4 months ago

I've just about given up on the state. I hope you do get the message through. I'd rather see a hike in progressive income tax than a regressive sales tax, but a soda tax would work, too. I'd also rather see a sales tax than nothing at all. These "temporary" measures to cut education spending have very real, permanent consequences.

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