PROVIDENCE – In a strongly worded letter sent to Rhode Island’s school superintendents on Friday, Education Commissioner Deborah Gist warned that the Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE) would take severe action against any district using seniority, job fairs or “bumping” to assign, keep or lay off teachers.
The four-page letter warns of sanctions by RIDE “up to and including loss of certification,” taking districts to court and the potential loss or diversion of state aid, unless they comply with regulations imposed through the Basic Education Program.
The Basic Education Program requires that every “Local Education Agency (LEA)” or school district, do four things to manage human capital. Gist outlined these four items in here letter:
1. “The LEA must have a human capital system that encompasses screening methods for determining candidate knowledge and skills that match the needs of students.”
2. “This human capital system must be created by policies and procedures adopted by the governing body of the LEA – typically the school committee. Once those legally adherent policies and procedures are adopted, there will most likely remain concomitant items that can be negotiated through collective bargaining.”
3. “The aforementioned policies and procedures must clearly provide that student learning is the primary reference point for decision making regarding personnel assignment and evaluation.”
4. “To the greatest extent possible, evidence of candidate knowledge and skill must be based on measurable, clearly defined attributes.”
Gist continued, “Taken together, the four BEP requirements listed above mean that teacher assignment can no longer be based on seniority.”
She said “seniority” refers to years of services within a particular LEA, which is different from “experience,” which “can be more relevant to staffing decisions if they incorporate relevant experience in the same area of certification, grade span and/or content area.”
But, according to Gist, neither “seniority” nor “experience” accurately capture relevant past performance levels of educators.
Every Rhode Island public school district that had a collective bargaining agreement with its teachers expire on or after July 1, 2010, or that has ratified a modification or renegotiation of such a collective bargaining agreement after July 1, 2010, now has a collective bargaining agreement with the previously listed requirements of the BEP written into the agreement.
In her letter Gist states that she mentioned in a previous October 2009 letter that she was “committed to giving all LEAs time to understand the then forthcoming requirements of the BEP and to make the necessary adjustments.”
She concludes here letter by stating that those LEAs that have not made the changes necessary to meet the BEP requirements are now on notice and she will consider the district’s actions “to be purposeful and willful violations of state law.”
Both Narragansett and South Kingstown school districts are in compliance with the BEP requirements.
“South Kingstown’s personnel assignment process is in compliance with the BEP requirements,” South Kingstown Superintendent Dr. Kristen Stringfellow said Monday.
South Kingstown’s personnel assignment policy reads, “Transfers, assignments, layoffs and recalls all shall be based on the Superintendent’s assessment of what teacher will be the most effective staff member to meet the particular student needs at issue.”
This policy, and that of the Narragansett School Department, regarding “selection of teachers and superintendent” are in compliance with Rhode Island state law.
“Narragansett has already made changes in the teachers’ contract to comply with the BEP in terms of placement of teachers in positions,” Narragansett Superintendent Katherine Sipala said in an e-mail Tuesday. “We will not have a job fair in the spring for teachers to transfer. All teachers who are interested in applying for a vacancy must do so in writing and those decisions will be made based on the teacher’s certification, experience, their teacher evaluation and the needs of the students.”