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Budget cuts mean non-renewals for 72 teachers

By Curt Yeomans

cyeomans@news-daily.com

While classroom teaching positions in Clayton County Public Schools were supposed to be safe from the chopping block, at a time when many other positions in the district are expected to be cut, the reality is that School System Superintendent Edmond Heatley's $84 million budget-reduction plan may force some teachers out of their jobs.

The employment status of 72 non-tenured teachers is in a state of limbo, because their contracts were not renewed for the 2010-2011 school year, due to budget cuts. It is a trickle-down effect, really, to allow room for others whose positions are being eliminated.

The contracts of non-tenured teachers were not renewed, an official from the district's Human Resources Department said, so school system officials could make room to keep tenured employees whose positions are being cut.

Many of those tenured employees are part of the district's central administration, said Damaris Garrett, the school system's director of human resources for school clusters one and two.

"There were some positions that were eliminated as a result of the re-organization of the district," Garrett said in a May 7 interview. "If the people who filled those positions were tenured, then they are being re-assigned ... As a result of us having to accommodate our tenured employees, some vacancies had to be created."

The dust will likely not settle on who is staying, and who is going, until May 20, according to Garrett. The tenured employees can not apply for vacant positions in the district until after the state-mandated deadline passes for employees who were offered contracts passes on May 15, she said.

Under Georgia law, Garrett said, a school system employee gains tenure once he, or she, has been awarded four consecutive contracts by the same district. "If they gain tenure, and then move to another school system, they regain that tenure after they are awarded their second contract in the new school system," Garrett said.

There are at least 242 people who will likely get priority before the teachers, according to school system officials. Those people include: 166 school-based instructional coaches, 30 school improvement specialists, 23 in-school suspension teachers, 10 academic coordinators, nine high school media specialists, three members of Heatley's cabinet, and one assistant director.

School System Spokesman Charles White said district officials anticipate that 145 district employees will retire at the end of this school year, however. Only 76 of those anticipated retirees are tenured employees, he said.

As it stands, though, there is a sense in the district right now that, as White put it in a May 7 interview, "anything could happen," as school system officials wait to see what vacancies they will have.

The employees who have received contract offers for next year have to either return their signed contracts, or notices of plans to leave the district, to human resources officials by their May 15 deadline, Garrett said. The tenured employees then get first dibs on applying for vacant positions, she said.

After those employees are placed in new positions, the teachers whose contracts were non-renewed, will have an opportunity to "compete" for the positions that are left, according to Garrett. "As long as they are qualified for the position, then they can apply," she said.

The district will hold an in-house job fair on May 20 for the teachers who were non-renewed to create vacancies for tenured employees, according to Garrett.

On Wednesday, White said he could not confirm whose positions in the district's central administration have been cut as part of Heatley's budget-reduction plan. "The district is still involved in implementing its reorganization plan," he said, in a written statement. "Any further comment on this personnel matter would be inappropriate."

Clayton County Education Association President Sid Chapman said his organization is unhappy about the reports he has received about teacher non-renewals, because CCEA leaders had been under the impression that teachers would be safe from the budget cuts.

As Heatley pitched his budget-reduction plan to the Clayton County Board of Education in March and April, he repeatedly promised that the impact of budget cuts on classroom instruction would be kept to a minimum. Heatley and other school system officials even bragged at a meeting in March that they had been able to find a way to cut expenses without teacher layoffs, as other neighboring school districts were considering.

Chapman said he has received numerous calls from CCEA members about the issue, and the organization is watching the situation very closely. He also said he met with Heatley, and several members of the superintendent's cabinet on Tuesday, to voice his displeasure with the contract issue. "We're disappointed," Chapman said. "There's an element of trust that goes with that relationship. It's our trust in what they tell us, because they tell us one thing, and we tell our members what we're told, and then, they do something else."