During Monday night’s board of education meeting, school district officials presented several updates on the operation of the school system, but sparks seemed to ignite among board members over the district’s personnel policy.
School Board Chairperson Pam Adamson and Board Member Jessie Goree clashed when Goree alleged that the board has undisclosed plans to dock the pay of teachers who are tardy too often, or even fire them.
Adamson told Goree that her concern was not an item that was on the agenda, and was, therefore, not up for discussion. In the middle of Goree’s response to Adamson, her microphone was apparently turned off. According to Goree, it was turned off because board members are “turning their backs on addressing the needs and concerns of district employees.”
Adamson, however, could not be reached for comment for this article.
Another Goree concern is that –– according to her –– teachers and other district employees “are not being compensated for working more than 8 hours a day.”
“I think that is just totally disrespectful to our employees,” said Goree. “We just shouldn’t treat people like this.”
The current personnel policy, Goree said, allows Clayton County School Superintendent Edmond Heatley to make district employees work longer than an 8-hour day without monetary compensation. Goree added that the current policy is not treating school system employees fairly.
Her complaint is that teachers and district employees are being forced to attend meetings after school hours, attend weekend events, and that it’s mandatory for all principals to attend board of education meetings, which are held twice a month, in the evenings.
She stressed to board members that teachers are already overworked and underpaid, especially for the amount of responsibility they carry.
“It’s more and more demands we keep making on [teachers] without taking them into consideration,” she said. “I understand that, when you take on a job as a principal, it’s a 24-7 position, but we’re not going to compensate principals for working on a Saturday? “It’s bad enough that we [have] principals [sitting] at board meetings on Monday night’s and then they have to be at work by 7 a.m., [the next day.]”
Sid Chapman, president of the Clayton County Education Association, agreed with Goree. Chapman said the extra hours teachers have to work are excessive, and he said he’s not even sure if the current personnel policy is legal. If fact, he added, the district could be in violation of Georgia’s labor laws.
“Teachers are being treated very poorly,” said Chapman. “I don’t see where in the policy you can terminate teachers for tardiness.”
He said the reason why teachers are not coming forth with their concerns is because of fears of retaliation, or of losing their jobs. “The overall feeling is [teachers] are fed up and ready to leave,” he said. “It’s a very oppressive and toxic environment.”
Goree said she is flooded with phone calls and e-mails from teachers and district employees expressing their concerns about the current working environment. She said teachers are telling her they cannot wait for the school year to be over, so they can find other jobs.
Clayton County Public Schools Chief Human Resources Officer Doug Hendrix said the district is not in violation of any labor laws. According to Hendrix, fair labor standards list school system employees as exempt employees.
“[In] our work in education as a profession, there are going to be things we do outside the normal hours,” said Hendrix. “School system employees having to work extra hours is something that comes with the territory.”
Goree added that her discontentment extends to the personnel policy dealing with teachers’ resignations. She said the board can reject, or deny, an employee’s request to take family medical leave, or to resign from a position, if they need leave to take care of a sick family member. “How can you reject someone’s resignation?” Goree asked the board, at Monday’s meeting.
Heatley responded by saying that certain criteria must be met before an employee is able to break his or her contract with the school system. He said the contract does not keep employees from leaving their jobs, but it will mean that they have abandoned their jobs.
Chapman added that there is a lack of consideration for illness, and that the school district is unsympathetic to employees who are having medical difficulties. As a result, he said, they could be terminated. “This [policy] needs to change,” he said.
“What is it that we are not understanding when we’re reading these policies?” Goree asked. “We have some hard-working people, who work for the school system. Teachers and administrators will do what they need to do to make things work.”
Since Superintendent Heatley has been in office, Goree said, the personnel policy has changed several times. Her concern is that, when changes are being made, the immediate supervisors, who oversee employees, are “being taken out of the decision process.
“Everything goes through [human resources,]” she said.
Hendrix said he would not make a comment on Goree’s comments, or those of any other board member. “They’re the board members, It’s their policy, and they decide what the policy is going to be,” he said.