Laid-off teachers have more time, chance to appeal
EAST SPENCER — The 50 teachers who were told that their jobs are being cut will have the chance to appeal before that decision is final, school officials say.
Superintendent Dr. Judy Grissom said she chose not to take her recommendations to the Rowan-Salisbury Board of Education at Monday’s meeting.
Any of the teachers whose positions have been recommended for elimination will have the opportunity to request a hearing, Grissom said.
About 50 teachers in the Rowan-Salisbury School System were notified last week that their jobs would be eliminated. Another 20 staff positions are set to be cut through retirements, resignations or temporary employees, school officials said.
Grissom said that the school system hopes to hire the teachers back once the federal, state and school board budgets are finalized, like it has in past years. But if expected losses in funding remain, board members would have to find other areas to cut in order to rehire those employees.
According to state law, school systems must notify certified staff by May 15 that their contracts will not be renewed. These actions are not official, though, until the school board approves them.
The board was expected to make that decision Monday night. But after coming out of closed session, they approved a list of personnel actions that did not include those positions.
Earlier in Monday’s meeting, five members of the public spoke out against the layoffs.
Marian Thompson, president of the Rowan-Salisbury Association of Educators (RSAE), said the school board should “call a duck a duck” and treat these layoffs as a reduction in force (RIF), not a non-renewal of contracts.
According to the board’s own policy, Thompson said, a reduction in force is “a demotion or termination because of district reorganization, decreased enrollment or decreased funding.”
She said the letter that Superintendent Dr. Judy Grissom sent to laid-off employees last week included the phrase, “I will be recommending to the Board of Education non-renewal of your probationary contract due to budget cuts.”
In the case of a RIF, Thompson said, it must follow specific, established criteria when deciding which positions will be eliminated.
RSAE Vice President Melessia Winbourne asked the board to follow those criteria for these job cuts.
“If it is essential to eliminate positions, it is essential to do so fairly and equitably,” Winbourne said.
William Wheritt, of Mooresville, agreed.
“I ask as a taxpayer and a child advocate that we follow this procedure... so that the teachers left in their positions are the best qualified teachers to teach our children,” Wheritt said.
Brenda Stewart, membership chair of the RSAE, said that the word “non-renewal” has a negative connotation for school employees and could make it hard for them to find jobs elsewhere. A non-renewal is usually related to performance issues, she said, while a RIF is due to forces outside the teacher’s control.
“According to general statutes, in order to non-renew a teacher, there’s got to be some kind of documentation collected that the teacher is ineffective,” Stewart said.
But after the meeting, Grissom said that these layoffs would in fact be non-renewals under the law.
“It is not a RIF,” she said. “A RIF only applies to career tenured teachers.”
Stewart also said that non-renewals require a 10-day appeal notice, which was not given in the notification letters.
Those notices will go out tomorrow, Grissom said.
Lina Drinkard, a local resident and former president of the RSAE, offered another way to handle the situation.
“In the past, when there were budget issues, a probationary contract was issued to probationary teachers with the statement, ‘Pending final budget approval,’” Drinkard said.
Earlier Monday, Grissom sent an email to all Rowan-Salisbury School System staff explaining some of the decision-making process behind the layoffs.
She said it is projected that the state will no longer fund 29 teaching positions because of a decrease in student enrollment. The system also may have to increase class sizes to make up for some lost funding, she said, resulting in the loss of 10 more teachers.
“This number would have been much higher had we not eliminated 27 positions through retirements, resignations and temporary positions,” Grissom wrote.
She said other positions like central office personnel and teacher assistants will be affected, but none of these positions require notification by May 15.
She said the Board of Education has final approval over whether to hire or dismiss an employee.
“It is never an easy decision when we must let any of our employees go for reasons of fewer students and/or for a loss of funding,” Grissom wrote. “But with the final state budget anticipated not being approved until July, we must prepare and make decisions based on the budget and student enrollment projections.”
Contact reporter Karissa Minn at 704-797-4222.