EBR teacher transfer letter draws complaints

A letter urging East Baton Rouge Parish teachers at higher-performing schools to consider transferring to lower-performing schools put Superintendent Bernard Taylor on the hot seat Thursday.

“No one is being forced to transfer anywhere,” Taylor assured School Board members who questioned him about the letter.

The letter, dated Feb. 7 and signed by Millie Williams, executive director for human resources, listed 32 schools with state-issued letter grades of D or F that teachers can request transfers to no later than Feb. 28.

The transfers are starting earlier than they have in years past.

“It is critical to share your intent to transfer (if you qualify) with the Office of Human Resources as it will affect the success of the entire recruiting and staffing process for next year,” Williams wrote.

To qualify, teachers are required to have at least three years of “successful experience” in the school system and have been rated “effective” or better on their latest teacher evaluation.

Taylor said that not only is the transfer voluntary, but there will be a “phase 2,” where, as they have in the past, teachers will have a chance to apply wherever there’s a vacancy, no matter what the school’s letter grade.

“It is my incumbent responsibility to help those schools that are low-achieving,” Taylor said.

Williams said the schools listed in the letter as open for transfers have 43 vacancies and have 23 spots filled by long-term substitutes.

“We hire someone today, in a week they have left,” she said. “That’s why we wanted to start early.

Board member Barbara Freiberg objected to the letter’s wording, saying it failed to mention that transfers are voluntary and that a second districtwide transfer period is coming.

“This looks like an ultimatum,” she said.

Taylor said the school system has recruited in stages in past years.

“It’s always been like that. I didn’t know you needed to tell people about what always was,” Taylor responded.

Board member Jill Dyason said Taylor should have briefed the board before sending the letter out, saying it might have headed off calls she got from teachers upset about the letter.

“At least we could have understood the hysteria on the other end of the line,” Dyason said.

“Sometimes the hysteria comes because people don’t read,” Taylor responded.

In other business Thursday, the board agreed unanimously to extend until 2029 a lease to a charter school in Baton Rouge located on school property at 1555 Madison Ave. Community School for Apprenticeship Learning, or CSAL, had a lease that was to expire in 2016. CSAL has leased this property since 1997.

Domoine Rutledge, general counsel for the School Board, said the extension allows CSAL to more easily get financing to expand on the property if wants to

Dujan Johnson, CSAL’s executive director, said CSAL is talking to school officials about expanding CSAL’s capacity from 170 to 230 students.