Teacher may face penalties for bailing early

Starting next school year, teachers who resign before the end of the school year may have to pay as much as $2,000 to get out of their contracts.

The Lafayette Parish School Board will decide at its 5:30 p.m. meeting Wednesday whether to approve new proposed contracts requiring teachers to pay $2,000 if they resign prior to March 15 and $1,000 if they resign after March 15, but before the end of the school year.

The penalties would apply to tenured and non-tenured teachers.

The new contracts are a way to curb the number of early resignations the district has experienced in the past two years, said Pat Cooper, superintendent of Lafayette Parish schools.

In the past two years, Cooper said, about 300 teachers have resigned before the end of the school year.

The early resignations affect students and school test scores, Cooper said. The payment is higher for early resignations prior to March 15 because spring testing is typically planned in mid-March, he said.

“The biggest issue for me is that it affects children,” Cooper said. “If you’re a teacher and you just walk off, we’ve got to find a substitute and most of the time, we may not be able to find people who are certified for those positions. It leaves our kids in a lurch.”

Danielle Babineaux, past-president of the Lafayette Parish chapter of the Associated Professional Educators of Louisiana, said private schools often include similar clauses in their employment contracts but questioned the need for the penalty in Lafayette Parish.

The penalty could have unintended consequences, said Babineaux, a certified teacher who works as an instructional strategist at S.J. Montgomery Elementary.

“It’s difficult enough to get teachers to sign on as teachers,” she said. “How will this encourage people to do it when there’s a penalty?”

In some cases, Babineaux said, it might not be in the best interests of students for a teacher to stay in the classroom just so the teacher can avoid paying a penalty.

“They’re staying but are unhappy and we’re entrusting them with 20 of our children?” Babineaux asked.

Cooper said he wasn’t aware of any other school district that requires teachers to pay to get out of their contracts. He added it’s not uncommon for other professions to levy penalties on employees who break contracts.

Cooper said the board’s attorney, Jon Guice, crafted the new contract for the school district.

Recent data shows that 106 teachers have resigned since the start of the school year, which began in August, said Bruce Leininger, the school district’s human resources director. When teachers resign, they’re asked to fill out an exit survey and give a reason for their resignation.

Between August and Dec. 31, 2013, 74 teachers resigned and the reason given most often — by 20 percent — was to relocate out of state or a spouse changing jobs.

Nearly 15 percent reported accepting jobs with another school system and nearly 14 percent reported family care or personal issues as their reason for leaving.

Leininger said more updated data on the exit survey information was not readily available Tuesday afternoon. However, he said he expected that relocation or spouse job, working for another school system and family care or personal issues would continue to be the top three.

“The order may change, but those are the top reasons,” he said.

Teachers who resign before the end of the school year due to illness or a family illness would not be liable for payment, Leininger said.

“There are caveats,” Leininger said. “Bad things happen, but it’s to prevent people from getting up in the middle of the year and quitting. Our primary concern is the disruption in the classroom. When you have 106 teachers leave, that’s three schools. That’s disruptive.”