Restructurings displace hundreds of teachers

More than 200 teachers in Baton Rouge seeking job transfers were still on the market last week, many of them displaced due to school restructurings spearheaded by East Baton Rouge Parish Superintendent Bernard Taylor.

Hundreds more have already found jobs in the system or opted to retire or resign instead.

At least seven schools are requiring some or all teachers to reapply for their jobs: Belfair Elementary, Delmont Elementary, Glen Oaks High, Lee High, Mayfair Middle, Merrydale Elementary and Staring Education Center. Changes at other schools are also pushing teachers and other educators into the displaced pool.

The local chapter of the Louisiana Association of Educators, or LAE, is publicly raising concerns about the way the school system is reassigning these displaced teachers, particularly at Belfair and Delmont elementary schools, which are undergoing controversial revamps.

A handful of educators at those two schools complained during interviews that they have been left in the dark about what’s happening to their schools and their job status.

At Belfair Elementary, roughly half the teachers were displaced when Taylor decided to end the traditional part of the school. Instead, he’s making Belfair a dedicated, or schoolwide, magnet focusing on Montessori education for students in prekindergarten to eighth grade. The move prompted a quick backlash from parents whose children were being transferred to F-ranked schools — Belfair is C-ranked. Taylor agreed in May to let some traditional students in upper grades stay temporarily.

Susie Rivet, the lead teacher for the Montessori program at Belfair, who has held that position for 17 years, supported in concept making the school a dedicated magnet. She, however, grew disenchanted as her questions and concerns about how it would all be implemented weren’t addressed.

When the School Board voted March 21 to expand the Montessori program into middle school grades, Rivet said, she had been warned by an administrator not to speak publicly, but spoke anyway, asking a series of implementation questions.

“That was the beginning of the end for me,” Rivet said.

Weeks later, she unexpectedly found that her job was being advertised. She reapplied to keep the job she’d had so long, but she never got an interview. She said she later found out, not from her principal, that she’d been displaced.

“Because of the disrespect, I decided to retire,” Rivet said. “It’s a shame because I bring a lot to the table.”

Millie Williams, interim executive director for human resources, said this year’s reassignment process is very similar to how it’s worked in the past, noting that the school system has held multiple job fairs, more than it has in the past, to try to find jobs for displaced teachers.

She said Rivet is not the only reapplying educator at Belfair who had complaints and that her office has been looking into them. She said teachers having to reapply for their jobs is never a happy process.

“People are disappointed when they don’t get something they think they deserve,” Williams said.

Michael Jones-Walker, LAE’s executive director, said the school system has never had a coherent process for reassigning teachers, but this year it’s the worst he’s seen.

“There’s no procedure,” he said. “They make stuff up as they go along. They claim there’s a process, but you can’t find it in writing anywhere.”

Displaced teachers are nothing new in a school system that has seen as much as East Baton Rouge Parish has during the past several years. The breaking away of Baker, Central and Zachary, as well as the takeover of eight Baton Rouge schools by the Recovery School District, have all prompted mass reassignments.

This year’s school restructurings, though, are all by choice. Nevertheless, many are being justified in part, or in whole, as preemptive moves meant to avert potential state takeovers, especially for schools with academic rankings of D or F.

As of June 6, the parish school system had reassigned 271 teachers as well as 36 support workers, but roughly 250 teachers and 50 more support workers were still looking for employment as of that date, Millie Williams, interim executive director for human resources, said in an interview Thursday.

Williams said not all of the 500-plus teachers seeking transfers were displaced. Some sought transfers on their own, some chose to retire or resign, although Williams said she was not sure how many fall into those categories.

More and more displaced teachers are finding jobs, Williams said, and the pace should increase this coming week.

Principals, up until now, have been able to pick and chose among the displaced employee pool who they wanted to hire.

Starting Monday, though, the school system will begin placing displaced teachers, at least the tenured ones, wherever there are vacancies, of which there were about 170, Williams said.

A handful of principals and assistant principals are themselves displaced and looking for jobs.

Jill Saia, the principal at Delmont, was two years into a three-year school turnaround program when the School Board pulled the plug on the experiment, citing a possible state takeover if the school remained unchanged. Saia spoke out publicly against closing the school; next year it will be a prekindergarten center along with kindergarten students.

When test scores came out in late May, Delmont showed marked improvement on its LEAP and iLEAP standardized tests, enough to move the school from an F to a likely D grade, out of harm’s way.

“We have been very successful with test scores, climate and culture, teacher retention and parental satisfaction, but unfortunately we’re being closed now,” Saia said.

During the course of her internal fight, Saia said, she was cited for insubordination, which she is fighting via a grievance. She said she didn’t know for a long time whether she would be reassigned anywhere, but she eventually was offered not an administrative post, but a teaching job. She instead is taking an offer to become the dean of instruction at Inspire Charter Academy in Baton Rouge.

Editor’s note: This story was modified on June 17, 2013, to correct the position at Inspire Charter Academy offered to Jill Saia. The position is dean of instruction, not principal. The Advocate regrets the error.