Context: After a year of negotiations the Teachers’ UNION declared IMPASSE with a school district unwilling to work with and compromise with the professionals doing the daily work in the classrooms with the children of Clay County. A special magistrate was called upon to intercede and foster compromise. The superintendent of Clay County, Charles Van Zant, Jr., refused to accept the magistrate’s judgement based upon the following (excerpted from his officially issued document “Employer School District Of Clay County’s Objections to Special Magistrate’s Recommendations):
1 1. In rejection of the union’s position that annual contract teachers be granted job security after three consecutive highly effective evaluations Van Zant stated “The threshold to receive an effective rating is a 60% on the evaluation system which is an artificially low standard established by the Clay Assessment Committee of which union representatives constitute the majority.”
The problem with his analysis here is that the 60% percent is not an artificially low number. It is feasible to rate ineffective teachers below this number. In fact, union representatives have approached school administrators in the past and expressed concern regarding working conditions because of an excess of walk through observations, both informal and formal, for teachers who continually produce results, supported by test scores, classroom data, and prior evaluations. In addition to myriad other obligations, quality teachers were feeling overburdened, undervalued, and unappreciated. They felt as if they were being watched over as a parent with a child and morale was low. When administration was approached regarding the issue, union leaders suggested that quality teachers be observed less frequently so bad teachers could be focused on, given due process, and dismissed if necessary. Administration response was to claim the observation document was too verbose and complicated and they didn’t know how to utilize it effectively to run bad teachers out. In other words, it was too hard for administration to identify bad teachers and help them improve, as superintendent Van Zant claims is the purpose of the evaluation document. Continuing with this line of thinking, it would also be even harder to establish a teacher’s faults and prove them following the protocol of due process. Essentially, the Clay Assessment system isn’t artificially low, the ability of county hired administration isn’t capable of doing the specific job they are tasked with in this regard. A site-based analogy for those playing at home and unfamiliar with educational terminology would be akin to teachers being unable to fail incompetent students because of the teacher’s inability to identify the meaning of the diction used to formulate the content specific standards they are tasked with implementing on a daily basis.
Secondly, to blame the weakness of the evaluation document on a committee “of which union representatives constitute the majority” is a not only a boldfaced lie but also a loaded statement with a political agenda. The union is NOT a majority on this committee and the culpability implied by Van Zant does not lie with the union as his statements would lead one to believe. He is intentionally distorting the truth to fit the narrative spun by his daddy and other like minds in the Florida legislature.
Furthermore, the teachers on this committee are likely to earn an average of about $45,000 annually and are tasked with planning, teaching, and grading daily lessons. The majority of this committee is made up of principals who make close to six figures if not over 100,000 per year to not only supervise but also utilize said evaluation document as their main daily priority. In addition, the committee is led by the top ranking administrators in the district second only to the superintendent. These committee members are getting paid in excess of 100,000 dollars per year and are tasked directly with the evaluation of personnel and instruction. Essentially, their job revolves around this tool that the superintendent deems “artificially” substandard. If they can’t manage to lead a committee that creates an evaluation system that does not have “an artificially low standard” then there are some serious questions to be asked. The logic does not follow. The superintendent can’t have it both ways, either the document is flawed because his appointed staff is unable to do better or his refutation of the assessment system is unacceptable.
2 2. In rejection of the union’s position that annual contract teachers be granted job security after three consecutive highly effective evaluations Van Zant stated “…each annual contract would automatically renew if the teacher receives an effective or highly effective rating for three years. Such automatic renewals clearly go against the intent of Florida Statutes…”
This is simply not true, 27 of Florida counties already have this in place and there has been no attempt by the state to go after districts for willfully breaking the law. Van Zant goes on to say that the legislature “deliberately removed PSC language with intent to limit teachers’ entitlement to continuous automatic employment.” First of all, the use of the word entitlement is both insulting and intentionally provocative. The right to have a secure job and steady means of income for those who consistently receive high evaluations and work “miracles” with groups of children most adults would flee from after only minutes in charge is not an entitlement. It’s been earned. Going back and noting the fallacy of Van Zant’s position on point #1, most teachers in this district are legitimately, not artificially, highly effective, and it’s not “continuous automatic employment” to keep a job that’s been earned and is consistently done with eminence and diligence. If Clay County is an “A” district, then the teachers who have done the actual work in the trenches have earned the right to keep continual employment, not question where the next meal or mortgage payment is coming from. Teachers don’t need to manipulate election laws to secure employment, rather they do hard work and work hard at it.
A side note, but one worthy of mentioning here, is that teachers on annual contracts don’t speak up, fight back, or shout down bad ideas. They go along. And when you go along with a bad idea, you are doing a disservice to the students and local populace. Job security is a must if you are to do your job well because dissent can prevent failures from occurring before they happen. And perhaps, people who want to keep others on edge, timid, and afraid might have the sort of intentions that they don’t want brought to light.
3 3. In rejection of the union’s position that annual contract teachers be granted job security after three consecutive highly effective evaluations Van Zant stated “The anecdotal evidence the special magistrate referenced in support of his recommendation on this issue related to the Teacher of the Year that moved to Alachua county is arbitrary, at best. While no one except that teacher can cite the rationale for his leaving, the School District notes that renewal in a “PSC-like” fashion as the union has proposed would effectively negate what the Florida Legislature intended in 2011.”
First of all, the teacher of the year, David Fields, has specifically stated at a school board meeting that he feels that Alachua County can better provide job security because they offer such protections to their teachers. When deciding between Alachua and Clay, Dave and his wife Kendra felt that Alachua was a far safer district to work than Clay with pending children on the way. If she came to Clay, rather than him going there, they did not feel confident that she could maintain employment in a district that doesn’t value nor respect its professionals.
Secondly, to ensure future recipients of the Teacher of the Year award doesn’t prove to be a liability for the political careers of the Superintendent and certain members of the board, the process for selection and determination of the recipient has recently been changed so that certain voices lack a potential platform from which to speak harsh truths most seek to avoid and ignore.
4 4. Van Zant rejects the notion of teachers getting in-service credit for re-certification if they do not implement strategies from the in-service and follow up with paperwork and evidence of implementation. Van Zant states “In this regard, the School District believes that the Florida Department of Education protocols require that follow-up documentation should occur after implementation in cases in which the teacher is to use a new skill or strategy as part of the ins-service training. It only makes sense that the effectiveness of the strategy can only be measured after it is implemented. “
Logistically, there are so many things wrong with this statement. If it “only makes sense that the effectiveness” of anything “can only be measured after it is implemented” then all bad ideas would have to be put into practice before issuing judgement. Telling my 11 year old son not to jump his bicycle over a pit of hungry alligators before actually attempting it is not beyond the pale. Implementation isn’t always the path to determining impotence. This sort of weak reasoning would preclude the existence of all management and supervisory positions. If all ideas need to be put into practice, all workers could just fling whatever they wish at the wall anytime they’d like and see what sticks. There would be no need for planning and refining, just trial and error….always.
Furthermore, to say teachers must implement a strategy in order to be awarded the points for re-certification (125 hours every 5 years plus a non-reimbursed fee approaching $100) is insulting and detrimental. If a college educated, experienced, classroom professional determines that a day-long mandatory in-service training is nothing other than balderdash, they should be awarded credit for time served. What’s the reason for making them implement a bad idea that will just subtract another day (days) from instruction? Competent people can smell manure when thrown in their ugly mugs, there’s no need to feed it to the kids to ensure it is indeed ordure.
5 5. In his objection to the practice of “leapfrogging” (the practice of outsiders coming into the district coming into the district with credit for all experience while veterans loyal to the district are refused full credit for experience the superintendent states “The School District …has had difficulties in recruiting individuals in hard to fill positions, such as speech. “
This is an absurd connection. There is one reason why speech THERAPISTS do not take jobs in the county. Salary. In the private sector, there is more money to be made, significantly more money. Furthermore, occupational therapists and physical therapists in Clay County are on a separate pay scale than speech therapists. The speech therapists are on the teachers’ pay scale (even though they also require a 70-100 credit Master’s Degree along with state licensing and completing a certification of clinical competence which entails over 400 clinical hours and requires an annual renewal fee). The other therapists on the separate scale make about $25,000 per year more than speech therapists. A speech therapist currently working IN Clay County Schools makes 70,000 a year working for a private contracting company. Simply put, that means that the district is paying private speech therapists more than they would have to pay their own employees if they would just pay their current speech therapists on the therapist salary scale.
The reason for the speech shortage isn’t because of “leapfrogging” but rather because Clay is lacking vision, coherence, competence, and community in its upper organization scheme.
6. The impasse led to the district absorbing the magistrate’s fees for composing this report that the superintendent has rejected. The school board will likely vote to reject it. The teachers will likely refuse to ratify the school board’s rejections. That takes us back to square one, negotiating a contract for the 15-16 school year, one that is essentially already over. Hundreds, if not thousands of man-hours wasted. This translates to dollars because time equals money, right? So, essentially, this year ends with absolutely no progress between management and labor at a significant cost. Therefore, it will be the 16-17 school year before negotiations pick up steam again and at that point it will be EIGHT (8) years without any pay increase. Not a raise, just a pay increase. No cost of living, contracted step increase, nothing…nada. Just an ever increasing inflation and rising cost of health insurance…adjusted for real dollars, the people doing the work in the schools of Clay have absorbed a net loss over the past decade of work while new positions and raises have been given to those in the ivory tower. It’s unjust at best. It’s indescribably profane for sure.