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Contracts offered to 100 snubbed teachers

By Curt Yeomans

cyeomans@news-daily.com

Since Interim School Superintendent Valya Lee took the reins of Clayton County Public Schools last week, 100 teachers who were previously denied contracts have been asked to return for the 2009-10 school year.

Another 100 are in a candidate pool, and can return next year as positions become available, school system officials announced Monday.

Approximately 400 teachers were not offered contracts earlier this month, because they lacked certification, had unsatisfactory job performance reviews, or lacked seniority, Acting Chief Human Resources Officer Douglas Hendrix told the school board at its work session.

A committee of principals and human resources officials, formed last week by Lee, has cleared half (200) of those teachers for continued employment in the school system. But because of budget concerns, and a reduced student population, 100 of those 200 teachers will have to wait for positions to become available.

"At present, no certified, tenured teacher with an adequate performance has been denied a contract for the 2009-10 school year," Hendrix said. "Our goal is to retain an adequate number of highly qualified teachers to provide the highest quality education to the students of Clayton County, while meeting our fiscal responsibility."

Many of the 100 teachers from the group that received contracts last week were special education teachers, Hendrix said. Their performance had not been reviewed before district officials decided to not offer them contracts, he added.

The committee created to look into the non-issued contracts conducted reviews of those teachers and determined they should be offered contracts, Hendrix said.

Lee told board members the 100 teachers who went into the candidate pool will be considered for jobs as they become available, but she reminded board members that the district lost more than 3,000 students this year because of its loss of accreditation, and that means fewer teachers will be needed.

District officials announced in January they would have a surplus of 153 teachers, if new contracts were given to every educator, and that large-scale teacher attrition and retirement would be needed to avoid layoffs.

Officials anticipate a $23 million reduction in state funding for the coming school year, because of the loss of students, and state funding cuts. "We will not be in a position to bring everyone back unless this board decides to reduce class sizes," Lee said.

The district's decision to offer contracts to one-quarter of the teachers who did not initially receive job offers was welcomed by teacher association leaders, who were informed of the action by Lee hours before Monday's board meeting.

"We're pleased," Clayton County Education Association President Sid Chapman said. "They promised to look at all of them [teachers who did not receive contracts], and to save as many as possible."

The Clayton County Education Association, the local branch of the Georgia Association of Educators, has 2,700 members, including 2,100 teachers. Richard Dickson, director of compensation for the school system, said there are nearly 4,000 teachers and counselors employed by the district.

Teachers,who did not receive contracts at the same time as many of their colleagues, began contacting officials from the Georgia Association of Educators and the Clayton County Education Association around March 11, according to Karen Jones, the Georgia Association of Educators' UniServ director for Clayton County.

Jones said she has been fielding 50 to 60 phone calls per day from teachers since the district initially distributed contracts. "Many teachers were just told out of the blue that they weren't going to be receiving contracts," Jones said. "When they asked their principals about it, the principals said they didn't have any input in the decision."

Chapman argued that the decisions to not offer contracts to teachers were made "arbitrarily." The resulting contract flap came as the district was in the midst of a leadership change. On March 14, days after teacher contracts were distributed, the school board fired former Superintendent John Thompson, and appointed Lee as his temporary successor.

Morrow Elementary School kindergarten teacher Ashley Holmes said she was one of the teachers who did not initially receive a contract for next year, only to later be asked to come back.

Holmes and another Morrow Elementary teacher received new contracts when the school's principal, Lee Casey, found out she had two vacancies at the school, created by a retiring teacher, and a teacher who was moving to Texas. Holmes was offered her new contract a day after her colleagues. Holmes called it a "rough 24 hours."

"It was an emotional roller coaster for me, going from being devastated, to totally excited in a short period of time," Holmes said.

Casey said Morrow Elementary School will still lose three teachers next year, though. The school currently has an enrollment of 512 students, but that number is projected to drop to 428 in the fall, she said.

While she has anticipated teacher cuts since last fall because of the drop in enrollment, Casey said it was difficult to tell teachers their contracts were not renewed. She said she is helping those teachers search for teaching jobs in other school systems.

"Every one of these folks is very good at what they do," Casey said. "I can't not help them. They've devoted themselves to my school, and I owe them something in return."