A new agreement between the Tacoma teachers union and the school district promises to settle one of the biggest issues left from last fall’s eight-day teacher strike.
The dispute was over how teachers move between schools when staffing needs rise and fall with fluctuating student enrollment or program changes. Officially, it’s called displacement, and it’s the issue that teachers said pushed them to the picket lines last fall.
Under the old system, seniority governed who moved out of a building, and who got to stay. The new system will use seniority, but only as a tie-breaker. It also gives the union a more active role in the displacement process.
During negotiations with the Tacoma Education Association last summer, the school district asked for more flexibility to allow principals to choose faculty based on how well teacher skills match a school’s needs, rather than who has been around the longest.
But the TEA feared district proposals were unspecific and that they could open the door to favoritism. The strike ended after Gov. Chris Gregoire called both sides to her office to hammer out a solution.
The solution came in the form of a nine-member committee, made up of equal parts union and administration representatives, along with an outside expert. They were assigned to work out a new system – one that didn’t rely entirely on seniority.
MATCHING SCHOOLS AND TEACHERS
Acting Superintendent Carla Santorno and TEA President Andy Coons co-chaired the committee. Jeanne Harmon, executive director of the Tacoma-based Center for Strengthening the Teaching Profession, was the designated outsider. The group began meeting in November and signed the final agreement Wednesday.
The committee’s plan goes into action this fall. Under terms of the strike settlement, neither the school board nor union members must approve the plan for it to become part of the teachers contract. Both sides agreed to abide by the committee’s decision.
Santorno said the district sought “a fair and equitable process” that would help restore teacher trust in the administration. At the same time, she said, she wanted a process that would create the best possible matches between a school and its teachers.
Coons said the wide variety of Tacoma school programs “created a staffing issue we needed to solve.”
“Seniority had worked in the past as a determination for assignment, but in our current era of innovation, it wasn’t meeting our needs,” he said.
The annual displacement process can affect an estimated 100 to 200 teachers – somewhere between 5 and 10 percent of the district’s certificated teachers, Coons said.
He said the committee researched what other districts around the nation were doing, but couldn’t find anyone with a system like the one Tacoma will begin using.
The new displacement system starts with each school in the district defining its mission and focus at the beginning of the school year. Teachers then create self-reports that demonstrate how their skills and credentials mesh with what their school is trying to accomplish. A scoring scale developed by the committee will grade teachers on:
• Professional expertise, including credentials and specialized skills.
• How well they meet their school’s mission.
• Their contributions both in the classroom and in extracurricular activities that enhance the school community.
• Student learning and growth. This can include growth in test scores as well as other measures of goals set for their teaching assignment.
Seniority will be used only as a tie-breaker between teachers with equal scores.
Each school will have a team made up of the principal, a TEA building representative and a member of a school decision-making team chosen by school staff. The team will score teacher self-reports. Appeals will be handled by the TEA Employee Rights Commission, and any decision the union group makes is final. It won’t be subject to the union grievance process.
‘DANCE OF LEMONS’
Coons said the new process ensures that principals won’t be able to simply shove underperforming teachers out the door and into another Tacoma school during displacement.
“We can say with certainty that there is no ‘dance of the lemons’ in Tacoma,” he said, referring to a phrase popularized by the movie “Waiting for Superman.” It refers to principals shuffling unsatisfactory teachers from school to school.
Under the new Tacoma plan, teachers who are on a plan of improvement because of unsatisfactory job evaluations from their supervisor won’t be eligible for displacement. The goal is to leave them in place and allow their principals to continue working with them to improve.
“A satisfactory evaluation is a gatekeeper to reassignment decisions,” Coons said. He said that provision ensures the Tacoma system will comply with a new state law that requires teacher job evaluations be part of staffing decisions.
The displacement process occurs each spring, when district officials decide school staffing levels for the following fall. Built into the new process are two job fairs, one for Tacoma teachers who voluntarily seek a transfer, and a second one for teachers who wind up in the displacement pool.
Wednesday’s agreement marks a milestone for both Santorno, who assumes the title of interim superintendent following the July 1 departure of Superintendent Art Jarvis, and for Coons, whose term as TEA president also ends in July. He is moving to Washington, D.C., to become chief operating officer for the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, which oversees teacher national board certification.
“My hope is for many more such collaborative efforts between the TEA and the Tacoma administration in the future,” Coons said.
“We set out on this journey with a dedication to collaboration,” Santorno said. “We wanted to create a healthy environment in our schools that encourages teachers to look around at their options.”
TWIN TEAM TEACHERS' FATES STILL UP IN THE AIR
Twin brothers John and Ryan Prosser could serve as the poster boys for Tacoma’s teacher displacement process.
The brothers, who were relatively new to the profession when they arrived at Giaudrone Middle School in 2010, learned this past spring that they’re being displaced from their positions.
They’ll still have jobs in the fall, but they don’t yet know where those jobs will be.
The twins team-taught social studies and language arts at the school, which just completed a second year under a federal grant aimed at boosting student achievement in low-performing schools. With only one more year left on the grant, the school wants to create a sustainable model for the future, and that model requires fewer teachers, according to what’s been explained to the staff.
Both brothers were notified this past spring that they would have to leave Giaudrone.
In a twist, John Prosser was a member of the committee that just completed its work restructuring the district’s teacher displacement process so that it doesn’t rely entirely on seniority.
But he won’t benefit from that work – at least not this year. The new displacement process won’t take effect until the beginning of the 2012-13 school year. The Prossers were displaced under the old rules, which largely relied on seniority within staffing categories.
“It’s frustrating because we thought we were being brought on for three years,” Ryan Prosser said.
As a member of the displacement committee, John Prosser said, he learned the process “inside out.”
“Now, I’ve gone through it,” he added. “It’s not personal, but it still hurts. We want to be there (at Giaudrone.) We love the kids.”Debbie Cafazzo, staff writer