Teacher: TUSD wrong-headed to treat educators as expendable
It's springtime; the desert is in bloom, the new season of Dexter is beginning on Showtime, and Tucson Unified School District teachers are once again facing job uncertainty and loss of healthcare insurance.
Layoffs are a spring tradition in the world of public education, but this year's cuts have been deep and numerous, and the policy for deciding who to pink slip is questionable.
Most confusing was TUSD's decision to lay off experienced employees while there were still available jobs within the district. Employees close to retirement who have served the district for years are losing their jobs and their health insurance, and told they must compete with new college graduates for openings similar to the ones they've lost.
Is this an attempt to cut costs by laying off higher-paid teachers and recruiting new graduates? It would certainly appear so.
Last week, when the school board approved the decision to lay off two hundred employees, there were jobs posted on the TUSD website which were open to those outside the district and included a special message encouraging new college graduates to apply.
This policy sends the message that teachers aren't valued in TUSD, and years of loyal service are meaningless.
A law passed by the Arizona Legislature in 2009 means districts are prohibited from using tenure or seniority as a factor in determining which teachers can be laid off. But teachers can be moved within the district thus avoiding lay offs altogether. The law was enacted, ostensibly, to make it easier for schools to get rid of weak teachers. Unfortunately, excellent higher-paid, experienced teachers lose all protection under the law, and districts can replace them with impunity.
Not only does the TUSD lay off policy raise ethical questions, it doesn't make complete economic sense either.
Why pay unemployment to numerous laid-off teachers over the summer when those teachers could be placed in other open positions that they qualify for? At a time of shrinking state funding for education, it does not make sense to spend precious dollars on teachers who are not working.
Another concern is high teacher attrition. According to The National Commission on Teaching and America's Future (NCTAF), 46 percent of new teachers leave the profession in the first five years. High turnover rates cost money and undermine schools.
TUSD should be courting their experienced teachers not alienating them with fear of unemployment every spring.
Wrong-headed choices such as the current TUSD lay-offs and rehiring policy are among the things that give the district a bad name. Not only are they losing students to charter schools, private schools, and other districts, they are losing master teachers as well. Granted, the district's budget has been violently cut by a state legislature that does not support public education, while teachers and schools are blamed for a myriad of public and social ills.
Still, we're not going to improve our education system and attract and keep good teachers if we continue to treat them as if they are expendable.
Nancy McCallion has 12 years of experience as a public school teacher, four years in a private school and 10 years with TUSD. She has taught kindergarten, first, third and fifth grades and more recently 6th grade language arts, reading, middle school choir and general music. She was laid off this spring when her music position was cut at Alice Vail Middle School — the third time she has been laid off from TUSD.