DISD's Teach Around: District Has a Lot of Vacancies and Not a Lot of Time to Fill Them

Last we checked there were around 800 teachers vying for 700 vacancies scattered throughout the Dallas Independent School District. Which, sure, sounds a little odd, given that only a few months ago the district was considering thousands of layoffs due to the state's decision to gut public education. But truth is, the district always knew this would happen: When the DISD, like most districts statewide, said it has to start squeezing more kids into classrooms, that eliminated hundreds of positions in middle schools and high schools.

At the same time, several hundred teachers took the early-retirement buyout, especially at the elementary school level. (At my son's school, for instance, his kindergarten and first-grade teacher both took the buyout, as did the longtime art teacher and several other familiars and favorites.) That means elementary schools in particular are trying to find replacements. And that ain't easy, since many of the secondary teachers aren't certified to teach at the elementary level. "And you can't fit a round peg into a square hole," as trustee Edwin Flores puts it.

I called Flores because I noticed that the district had added to the board's Thursday-morning meeting agenda an item titled "Human Resources Staffing Update Including Options for Addressing Excess Employees," which comes with this freshly minted PowerPoint. Flores says the trustees asked for a staffing update at this weekend's board retreat, particularly since there remain 119 vacancies for bilingual teachers. According to Flores, there are just a handful of qualified bilingual educators among the 387 remaining unassigned teachers in the contract-employee pool from which to choose. That means the district will more than likely have to go outside the district to hire.

"But it's a good time from an employer's point of view, because all these other districts around us have been gong through what we've gone through," he tells Unfair Park. "So there are some potentially really solid candidates out there. But they have to match what we're looking for. If you're not certified bilingual, you can't teach there, because you're not highly qualified as designated by No Child Left Behind."

And, yes, they do know school starts in less than two weeks.

According to the PowerPoint, 729 contract, on-campus employees lost their jobs in the reshuffling; those include teachers, principals, counselors. According to the presentation put together by human resources, 342 of them have found new positions within the district. The 294 at-will employees mentioned are janitors, cafeteria workers and so on; 106 of them have new gigs.

There's already been the one job fair, but with school rapidly approaching, a second one's needed. And principals who've yet to find teachers for their campuses are also being provided with a copy of each available teacher's Classroom Effectiveness Index, which allegedly measures how well their students performed. ("Allegedly" because we know how teachers feel about the CEI.)

A second fair's needed, says Flores, for myriad reasons: "Principals didn't have all the time in the world [to meet with teachers], some got the notice late, they were out of town, so it'll be important they attend and try to get placed," he says. "And at the retreat, the senior executive directors who oversee the principals were there, and what they wanted was the principals to get to access the CEIs because there may be some awesome candidates out there."

But the challenge, says DISD spokesman Jon Dahlander, is "finding a teacher who is certified to teach in a high school class who could also teach third-graders. That's been the challenge from the outset."

Flores explains it this way: "Let's say Hillcrest said, 'We're not going to teach German next year.' That teacher is released and goes into the pool. This could be an awesome teacher, but there's no position for them. It's not a performance-based release pool, it's a population-based release pool based on the number of kids at each campus. .. But I was talking to a principal today who said, 'I picked up six great teachers from the release pool.' And this was a secondary school, and he got some great ones."

Truth is, the district doesn't even figure how many kids are at each school till sometime 'round October, when student populations level off and they can finally set in stone -- or, at least, wet cement -- how many teachers each campus really needs. But time's tight: Some schools are still missing several teachers, and many principals are talking about using substitutes till they can find perfect fits -- which is fine with Flores.

"There's a strong consensus that we as a board want our leaders on our campuses to be able to manage their staff and pick their players," he says.

"We were fortunate that teachers did not have to be laid off," adds Dahlander. "But at the same time, to think that you can just have these resignations and them things will just shuffle out perfectly in a school district this large, that was never predicted. That's something we have continued to say will be a challenge, and as we approach the school year it is."