By Ben Velderman
BELVIDERE, Ill. – Teacher union officials have always claimed that layoffs based on performance rather than seniority would cause schools to purposefully dump their highest paid instructors.
And now they believe they have the smoking gun to prove it.
RRStar.com reports that the Belvidere Education Association officially expressed “no confidence” in their school leaders earlier this week, over the union’s belief that administrators have manipulated the teacher evaluation process so they can lay off the school’s most veteran – and expensive – educators.
Under the state’s Performance Evaluation Reform Act, teachers are ranked – and laid off – by performance rather than seniority.
According to BEA members, Principal Todd Martens and assistant principals Rachel Lathrop and Kathy McGuire “targeted experienced employees by giving them unsatisfactory reviews without indicating disappointment with their performances during walkthrough,” reports RRStar.com.
“BEA President Mark Luthin delivered the news (of the no confidence vote) to the Belvidere School Board Monday, just minutes before the leaders chose not to renew 18 district employees’ contracts,” the news site reports.
Luthin noted that the five teachers laid off at the high school “are all the most senior or second most senior in their department.”
There are a few factors to consider here.
If the principal had expressed disappointment in a teacher’s performance during a classroom walkthrough – in the presence of students – the union would have blasted him for behaving unprofessionally and undermining the teacher’s authority. That just illustrates how impossible it is to please labor leaders who are itching for a fight.
The union should also consider the pay scale that it’s been forcing down the school board’s throat for years. Teachers in most districts eventually reach the $70,000 to $80,000 mark if they work long enough. That’s a lot of money for a school district facing a $7.1 million deficit.
Has the union offered to accept an across-the-board pay freeze to help reduce the deficit and avoid layoffs altogether?
The union should also consider the possibility that administrators expect a lot more from teachers who earn a lot more money. Results should improve as income grows.
Does this incident validate the teacher unions’ claims that ending seniority protections for educators will inevitably lead school leaders to purge their staffs of the highest earners?
Not quite. The BEA’s case of malfeasance is hardly iron-clad.
The union charges that the Belvidere principal team was inconsistent in setting dress code and tardy policies, which led to an unstable learning environment, reports RRStar.com.
BEA members also claim that school leaders added courses mid-year – without proper planning or communication – and that the new courses didn’t match curriculum requirements, according to MyStateLine.com.
Union members say it all contributed to a “culture of fear” in which they were “continually bull(ied), belittle(d), ignore(d) and otherwise demoralize(d),” the news site reports.
Sounds like a miserable work environment – for both sides – but none of the union’s gripes amount to a smoking gun. (Are we still allowed to use that phrase?)
Despite the BEA’s huffing and puffing, this looks like much ado about not very much.
A school district has a $7 million deficit and is doing what is necessary to balance the budget. Such is life.