In a 6-0 vote Tuesday night, the School Committee approved a new personnel policy that eliminates using senority as the sole criteria for teacher hiring and placement.
Committeewoman Mary Ellen Winter was absent.
School Committee Chair David Green said the action came in an effort to align EGSD policy with the state Department of Education's Basic Education Program, or BEP. The BEP calls for "an effective human capital management system," according to a 2009 letter from Education Commissioner Deborah Gist to superintendents.
In that letter, Gist highlighted the language in the BEP (which was enacted by Gist's predecessor, Peter McWalter) that reads, "each LEA shall maintain control of its ability to recruit, hire, manage, evaluate and assign its personnel." (An LEA is a "local education agency," or school district.)
On Tuesday, committee member Susan Records expressed some reservations about the new policy. In particular, she said she was concerned about how teachers would be prepared for what she called a "drastic change" in the hiring and placement process.
"I’m just looking for how we can keep [teachers] motivated going forward," Records said, whose son, Matt Records, is a teacher in the district. "I don’t see that in the policy. But do we have any supporting policies? And what kind of communications have we made with our current staff on this drastic change?"
Committee member Deidre Gifford responded, noting there had been a panel of administrators and teachers – the Commission on Teaching Excellence – working for 18 months on these issues.
"Our charge was to look at the BEP next to the current contract and call out places where there was language where the two weren’t aligned. One of the recommendations that came out of that process was essentially mirroring the BEP language that said that seniority would be a consideration but not the sole consideration in hiring. So there was that whole 18-month process where there was back and forth [between the administration and the union]," Gifford said.
Among the new criteria to be considered when hiring or placing a teacher are educational background and certification; professional experience; past job performance; interview performance; evidence of effectiveness as measured by student academic growth; and duration and scope of professional experience.
Union co-president Donna Hayes, a library media specialist at Frenchtown School, told the School Committee that setting policy was not the same as collective bargaining.
"Although the Basic Education Program regulation reaffirms that optimal student learning is the main criteria of all school departments, the procedure through which this is achieved, for teacher selection and retention, must be collectively bargained," she said read from a prepared statement. "If any changes need to be negotiated to optimize student learning, they will bargained in good faith at that time."
The teachers' contract expires Aug. 31. Negotiations on a new contract are set to begin in coming weeks.
"The policy does not need to be collectively bargained. The contract needs to be collectively bargained," said School Committee Chairman David Green after the meeting. "We’re simply following that which has the force of law. The BEP – RIDE regulations – have the force of law in Rhode Island. The policy now complies with the statute."
Green continued: "Our process ... is to ensure that our policies are consistent with Rhode Island regulations. We’ve done that tonight.... I think everything we approved in the policy will be reflected in the contract but the policy is the backbone. It’s the standard. And there’s many different ways to get to that standard. That will be the subject of many lively conversations within the negotiation sessions."