More than 300 Metro teachers displaced as positions eliminated

Monday, May 23, 2011 at 9:05pm

Linda Lockhart is a 20-year veteran at Metro Nashville Public Schools, the last four as a third-grade teacher at Whitsitt Elementary. She’s tenured and has put in extra hours assisting the school’s after-school program.

So Lockhart, 63, was stunned when word trickled down from her principal recently that she and three Whitsitt colleagues wouldn’t be teaching at the Woodbine-area school next year. Lockhart’s position has been terminated, and she will have to look at other schools to continue her career at Metro.

“I was totally shocked,” Lockhart told The City Paper. “My test scores have always been good. I’ve always gotten good evaluations.”

Lockhart isn’t alone in her frustration.

In all, the positions of 334 teachers — covering Metro elementary, middle and high schools — have been eliminated prior to next school year, with district officials hoping to relocate affected teachers to other schools. But there’s no guarantee that will happen — it boils down to a still-unknown number of openings elsewhere. 

“There will be reductions in force if we don’t have sufficient vacancies in the school system to cover those positions,” Director of Schools Jesse Register said, “because we will go into the next school year with fewer teaching positions in our district.”

The reality of eliminated teaching positions has gone largely underreported in Nashville, perhaps in part because Mayor Karl Dean has announced intentions to fully fund Metro schools.

Dean’s budget proposal for the 2011-12 fiscal year, which awaits Metro Council approval, supports schools financially to the level requested by the Metro Nashville Board of Education. However, the mayor and school board’s plan does not cover more than $30 million in depleted federal stimulus monies and approximately $10 million in vanishing federal-jobs program dollars. Official have known this day was coming, and it’s resulting in more than 300 terminated positions.

“We are reducing the number of teachers in our school system,” Register said. “Our local budget has built back in an additional 130 positions, but in terms of federal jobs lost, the number is higher than that. We’ve really had to tighten up.

“The real reduction in the number of classroom teaching positions will be greater than what we usually have,” he said, adding that “academic coaches” are among the hardest hit.

A reduction in teaching positions comes as the district’s 78,000-student population is expected to increase next year. State law mandates a 1-to-20 teacher-to-pupil ratio for students kindergarten through third grade, a 1-to-25 ratio for students fourth through sixth grade, and a 1-to-30 ratio for students seventh through 12th-grade.

“We will maintain the state-mandated class size, but the loss of that federal money really hurts,” Register said.

School officials are hoping to retain the 334 teachers who are losing their positions by relocating them to new schools. Each year, Metro loses hundreds of teachers who retire or leave the system. In addition, the district last week notified 265 teachers that their jobs have been terminated for state-licensure or performance reasons. Job openings are supposed to come through these two avenues.

Metro held two job fairs last week for displaced teachers in hopes of finding them new homes. But teachers –– as well as the local teachers’ union president — came away roundly criticizing the events as chaotic and unorganized.

“I’d say it was generally a disaster,” said Metro Nashville Education Association president Erick Huth, a sentiment expressed in several anonymous letters teachers sent to the union.

Criteria for selecting displaced teachers have raised issues as well.

Lockhart, the veteran Whitsitt Elementary teacher, is among a handful of teachers who have alleged the district chose to displace her because of her age. Older teachers tend to earn larger salaries than newer employees. The teachers’ union is helping file complaints through the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. 

“There seems to be a pattern of discrimination against older teachers and minorities in some instances,” Huth said. “It is clear to us that there is some discrimination involved.”

June Keel, the district’s assistant superintendent for human resources, said she rejects those accusations.

“If any teachers feels that he or she has been mistreated unfairly in this process, they have a right under the educational agreement to file a grievance,” Keel said.

Keel said the 334 teachers displaced within Metro right now represent a substantially larger figure than in the past. She said criteria in displacing teachers included seniority, certification, special training, instructional needs for individual schools and leadership roles in extracurricular activities.

“Many of these teachers, although they were classroom teachers, were being paid by true federal funds,” she said. “When those funds dried up, we had to reallocate the teachers.”

Keel said she believes the district can retain all of the displaced teachers because of natural turnover and attrition. 

“We have easily, over the summer, over 300 teachers who leave us because of resignations and retirements,” Keel said. “There’s also a number of teachers whose contracts have not been renewed, most of them for licensure.”

As for a teacher’s former position, there are no plans to fill it. 

“That position is gone,” Keel said. 

18 Comments on this post:

By: Wompcat on 5/24/11 at 6:32

The school system`s are grossly over staffed at all levels. House cleaning is necessary.

By: Moonglow1 on 5/24/11 at 6:43

Moonglow1: perhaps the terminations are a result of the push to fund charter schools. Nashville has very poor graduation rates. We need to fund the public educational system and retain our most experienced educators. As far as the age discrimination accusations, what percentage of the teachers who have been terminated were age 50 and older. It would be interesting to have this statistic.

By: fostecs on 5/24/11 at 7:06

If the section

"However, the mayor and school board’s plan does not cover more than $30 million in depleted federal stimulus monies and approximately $10 million in vanishing federal-jobs program dollars. Official have known this day was coming, and it’s resulting in more than 300 terminated positions."

is accurate, this is a "Budget 101" problem. Anytime "one time money" is spent on recurring budget items, there is going to be a problem funding the recurring budget item when the "one time money" is gone. Many would have argued that these one time moneys would have been better spent on buildings, whether new projects, improvements, simply on maintenance.

By: richgoose on 5/24/11 at 7:32

The teachers must understand that a debacle like the Davidson County public school system takes on the personality of the students and parents or in some cases wards who attend.

Obviously if you accept the premise of a debacle then why should not the teachers expect erractic,inconsistent and unfair treatment from time to time.

Were I a teacher in the Davidson County school system I would look upon my employment the same as I would a box of CRACKER JACKS. You never know what you are going to get until you open the box.

By: pkbj on 5/24/11 at 7:52

I have to question a Mayor who is suppose to be the Education Mayor...one who knew about but would allow a $40 million shortfall and then say he is going to fully fund education.

By: shehane64 on 5/24/11 at 9:02

Ms. Keel in human resources states that older teachers who feel they've been the object of age discrimination can file a grievance. Can they? Will the contract still be valid when negotiations are eliminated or curtailed because of the state legislature's recent activities? Being able to file a grievance is a negotiated item. See? Even with tenure intact, teachers can still get messed over. And for you commenters who are so critical of our school system and public education in general, Ms. Lockhart seems to one of the good guys.......good test scores and good evaluations. How does her termination help the system improve?

By: Marc M. on 5/24/11 at 10:03

More than half of the 334 teachers have already been placed as a result of the job fairs held for them. This comes from a reliable source at MNPS. I'm not sure what parameters were used to choose who would or would not be offered their specific jobs back, but position availability seems to fall well within the attrition and normal termination numbers based on historical data. Meaning, their will be positions for them whether they are happy with them or not. Could it be possible that older teachers were selected, hoping they would retire? It would be interesting to revisit the information in this article closer to the 2011-2012 school year. It may no longer be newsworthy.

By: pswindle on 5/24/11 at 11:00

Maggart is getting her way. Let wait and see what happens. How long can Metro hang in there. Teachers will find other places. They do not need this kind of treatment.

By: RJP on 5/24/11 at 12:30

rjp Mayor Dean a man with alot of words and no action,can hardly wait to vote!

By: RJP on 5/24/11 at 12:46

rjp And Mayor Dean way to let another 20 to 50 million dollar company slip out of nashville. Another 100 to 250 workers out of a job. Along with 300 teachers. Do the math nashville, Which council persons district was the wire plant in?And any council members getting out front for our teachers?

By: NewYorker1 on 5/24/11 at 3:05

Shouldn't we, the tax payers, be making these decisions and not a much of crumb-snatching, protecting-their-on-six-figure-jobs jerks in a boardroom?

By: mg357 on 5/24/11 at 5:53

We all knew that stimulus funds were used to keep many of these teachers working this year. At this point in time the funds are gone and with no other funding forthcoming; what did they expect to happen?This scenario is being repeated all over the country with states in dire need of money along with huge budget shortfalls.......mg

By: howelln on 5/25/11 at 10:01

The job fair was a big mess. No one seemed to know what they were doing. I seriously doubt that very many people were placed because of it.

By: Radix on 5/25/11 at 1:33

MNPS could come out of this stronger if the unions weren't dictating who could be let go. Unfortunately, its probably not based on merit, but instead on tenure. Like in unionized Wisconsin when a young teacher won Teacher of the Year and got her pink slip the following day. MNPS's strongest teachers will probably end up at private schools. On the path to improving our schools, Teachers Unions are the quicksand.

By: howelln on 5/25/11 at 3:15

If it were based on tenure, then Ms. Lockhart would have a job.

By: pswindle on 5/25/11 at 5:49

The Unions do not tell who goes or who stays. What has happened to tenure?

By: 2teachornot2teach on 5/26/11 at 9:38

@Marc M-

As one of the 334 displaced teachers (who attended both nights of the farce that was the job fair), I can assure you that if 334 teachers have indeed been placed as a result of those fairs, most of us don't know anything about it. I haven't heard a word, and neither have many of my colleagues.

By: bigbadude on 5/28/11 at 6:47

Passage Psalm 24 :

Psalm 24

1The earth is the LORD's, and the fulness thereof; the world, and they that dwell therein.

2For he hath founded it upon the seas, and established it upon the floods.

3Who shall ascend into the hill of the LORD? or who shall stand in his holy place?

4He that hath clean hands, and a pure heart; who hath not lifted up his soul unto vanity, nor sworn deceitfully.

5He shall receive the blessing from the LORD, and righteousness from the God of his salvation.

6This is the generation of them that seek him, that seek thy face, O Jacob. Selah.

7Lift up your heads, O ye gates; and be ye lift up, ye everlasting doors; and the King of glory shall come in.

8Who is this King of glory? The LORD strong and mighty, the LORD mighty in battle.

9Lift up your heads, O ye gates; even lift them up, ye everlasting doors; and the King of glory shall come in.

10Who is this King of glory? The LORD of hosts, he is the King of glory. Selah.