Southbridge school district cuts 27 teachers
By Brian Lee
Twenty-seven teachers with fewer than three years' experience in the district have been told not to come back next year; the number is high, but not a surprise, given the state takeover of the Southbridge public schools earlier this year, the teachers union president said this week.
School districts aren't required to give teachers who haven’t held their positions for three years a reason for not being renewed.
In addition, Southbridge Education Association President Joan Sullivan expressed concern for the fate of education assistants. The teachers contract gives the district until June 30 to notify education assistants about their job status, she said.
The district of about 2,200 students was deemed a Level 5 chronically underperforming system in January, after being designated underperforming since 2004.
"As the union," Mrs. Sullivan said of its approximately 250 members, "we’re doing everything we can to help people who have not been renewed. That’s the best that we can do."
Mrs. Sullivan said she was glad that the 27 teachers, most of whom worked at the middle-high school, were notified earlier than what was required of the district.
Jessica Huizenga, the state-appointed receiver for the public schools, said the teachers who were let go were notified four weeks in advance.
The notification process, she said, was developed collaboratively with the SEA because of the desire to give the teachers the opportunity to seek employment elsewhere, during the height of hiring season for educators.
At the same time, the receiver said, Southbridge schools wanted to be poised to post positions to attract quality candidates.
Meanwhile, the fate of teachers with three or more years' experience remains in limbo because of changes the state can make to Southbridge contracts.
The district turnaround plan is to be unveiled June 24, officials said.
Under the Achievement Gap Act, the commissioner and the receiver, through the turnaround plan, may limit, suspend or change one or more provisions of any collective bargaining agreement.
According to Mrs. Sullivan, veteran teachers were given letters of “reasonable assurance” of their job assignments for next year. Mrs. Sullivan said there were no end-of-year layoffs of veteran teachers.
However, the letters were issued in compliance with the existing teachers’ contract, which remains in effect until the turnaround plan materializes.
Mrs. Huizenga told a reporter that any actions taken before the launch of the turnaround plan have nothing to do with those that occur after the plan takes effect. But she declined to comment when asked about the prospect of the district letting go veteran teachers through the looming plan.
“My only comment in regards to this is, we’ve been working hand in hand with the union throughout this process,” she said. “The lines of communication have been open. We’ve been very transparent, are following the collective bargaining agreement and have been meeting on a regular basis (with union leadership), to ensure we’re moving forward together.”
Mrs. Sullivan, the union leader, said some teachers already left the district because they were “nervous about the changes.” When asked for the number of departures, she said it is still being determined because some had yet to give official notice.
“We will see what the summer brings,” she said. “They have the right to be nervous and say, 'Maybe I don’t want to be here.' We really need people who are going to be enthusiastic - and they should go, if they feel they can find a better place. It is very stressful still. I think we’re all anticipating a great September, but we still haven’t seen the turnaround plan.”