"Force Place" or a Cut of $3 Million: Dallas ISD Teachers, the Choice, Apparently, Is Yours

We told you yesterday that the Dallas Independent School District is considering offering "excess" Chapter 21 employees -- teachers, principals, librarians, counselors -- a pile of cash worth $3 million to retire. After last night's called board meeting, it became clear that while that's probably what trustees will ultimately vote to do Thursday night, it's not without risk for those employees, the school staff and the trustees themselves. And no matter how many of the 209 employees who have been identified as excess actually take the buyout, this is all just a prelude to another conversation we'll be having in the spring, when another 400 people will have to be let go.

According to Steve Korby, the executive director of financial services at DISD, and district chief of staff Claudia Rodriguez, there are currently 209 excess Chapter 21 employees, and only 132 vacant positions across the district. They presented a few options to deal with that gap, but recommended Option 1: Let those 209 folks know right away they're being "non-renewed," but offer a "resignation incentive of salary continuation" through January 2012, if they choose to step aside now. That means they'll get three months of pay without having to come to work.

The people who don't take the buyout will be force-placed into some of those vacant positions, while the rest will be put into the substitute pool. The cost will be $4.3 million, which is not in the budget and will have to come out of emergency reserves.

"I hate that term 'force place,'" DISD board president Lew Blackburn remarked at one point early on. He sees the option as a way for the excess employees to prove their worth at the schools where they're assigned. "It's incumbent upon the teacher to perform very well," he said, "... and to impress upon the principal that you are valuable to that campus. Which I think teachers should do every day."

But three principals -- Jolee Healey from Hexter Elementary, Marlon Brooks from Wilmer-Hutchens High School and John Parker from Franklin Middle School -- made it clear that while they would accept the force-placed employees into their vacant spots, they probably wouldn't end up hiring them for the long haul. All three said that although they had vacant positions, they were already "aggressively" interviewing other candidates.

Healey acknowledged that while it was possible that a force-placed employee could end up "being a wonderful asset to our team," she would ultimately choose a permanent teacher (or counselor or librarian) based on what was best for the students. "That's what needs to be the priority," she said, "What's best for the kids, not what's comfortable for adults." Later, she added that in her 12 years as an administrator, she's seen "few forced placement situations that have worked out well."

District 1 trustee Edwin Flores added that in his experience as a parent, "I don't want my kids in front of a teacher who's been force placed." He likened it to "sending in a wild card." Parker agreed, saying that the teachers he'd had force-placed in the past had "ended up being lower performers in a critical area," the math department.

"It's an uphill battle," Healey said. "It requires a lot of effort, although there are probably a few success stories." It was only a "palatable" option, she said, because the principals have the opportunity to not renew those employees without being "responsible for documenting" why, or recommending the non-renewed teacher elsewhere

And even those employees who are force-placed and do well aren't necessarily immune to the next round of layoffs. Blackburn reminded the trustees, and the audience, that the $37 million in budget cuts that are happening next year will result in the at least 400 more employees being let go. It was the only real way to save that kind of money, he said. "We can only turn off the lights so many times." When asked by District 3 trustee Bruce Parrott if all of those layoffs would be teachers, Blackburn responded only, "I hope not."

Adam Medrano, the trustee from District 8, wasn't happy with the way the excess employees were being discussed. "I don't believe they're getting a chance," he said. "The board has already labeled them as the worst of the worst. ... I don't think they'll get a fair shake." There were loud murmurs of agreement from the audience.

Carla Ranger, the recently un-resigned trustee from District 6, also objected to the idea that "these teachers are ineffective." Of the 209 excess employees, only 23 had a poor evaluation ("below expectations," in DISD speak), 48 had Course Evaluations Instruments (CEIs, another standard of measurement) below 50, and just six had low scores in both. Ranger also took exception to fellow trustee Nancy Bingham, who criticized the employees who chose not to attend the three job fairs DISD has held for excess employees. "Fifth percent didn't even bother to make it to a  job fair," Bingham said, to grumbling from the crowd.

"There are several factors and reason why people didn't participate" in the job fairs, Ranger responded, a little icily. "It wasn't just that they didn't want to go or chose not to." (And as Leslie wrote about over the summer, some teachers who did go thought the whole thing was a waste of time and gas.)

After the meeting, we spoke to Angela Davis, president of the National Education Association's local chapter. She's glad, she said, that the board is offering some kind of resignation incentive, but agreed with Medrano that the force-placed employees were obviously not going to get a fair shake at their new schools.

"We're going to advise our members to take the resignation," she said. "Because otherwise they're not going to have a job at the end of the year."

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Anna Merlan
Contact: Anna Merlan