District, teachers group vow to seek solutions for staff whose jobs are at risk
Read the summary put out by the Roaring Fork School District of the process to date to assist displaced and nonrenewed teachers who are looking for work next year, in part because of enrollment shifts to the new Riverview School.
Roaring Fork Schools Superintendent Rob Stein and the president of the organization representing teachers in the district say they are committed to working together “in the spirit of collaboration and trust” to support teachers impacted by student enrollment shifts in Glenwood Springs and Carbondale.
Meanwhile, the numbers are starting to shake out among teachers and staff, now totaling 21, who were given nonrenewal notices this past week or advised that they will be displaced from their current jobs next year as a result of the situation caused in part by the planned opening of the new Riverview School south of Glenwood.
Displacement is a term for nonprobationary teachers who have three or more years with the district and are guaranteed a position for the following year even if they become displaced by enrollment shifts or other reasons. Teachers receiving nonrenewal notices are those within their three-year probationary period with the district.
“We are deeply sorry that this has caused real hardship and anxiety for many of our staff members, and we remain committed to going to extensive lengths to help them find positions in our district,” Stein and Rhonda Tatham, president of the Roaring Fork Community Education Association, said in a joint statement to district employees, parents and the community earlier this week.
Tatham and other association representatives, along with individual teachers and parents, spoke before the RFSD school board last week saying the district was not doing enough to protect the impacted teachers, and criticizing a decision to hire from outside the district to fill some of the initial Riverview positions.
Several of those who spoke urged the district the close the hiring process for the remaining positions at Riverview and elsewhere in the district to internal applicants only, until all of the affected teachers who want to remain with the district are taken care of. But district officials said their hands are tied by state law and a district policy meant to prevent forced placement of teachers.
“We want to affirm … that we will continue working jointly in the spirit of collaboration to provide timely and accurate information, to problem-solve collectively to find more and better ways of supporting teachers affected by the staff reductions, and to avoid the kinds of divisiveness that undermine trust in one another and in our schools,” read the statement signed by Stein and Tatham.
Enrollment shifts away from Sopris Elementary and Glenwood Springs Middle schools caused by the opening of the new combined Riverview elementary and middle school next school year, as well as an unexpected decline in projected enrollment at Carbondale’s Crystal River Elementary, resulted in the reduction of 32 staff positions at those schools.
About the same number of positions at the new Riverview School will help replace some of those positions. But state law and a district policy don’t allow for a direct transfer of affected employees into those positions without the mutual consent of both the teacher or staff members and the building administrator.
The situation eased some when 11 staff members gave early notice that they plan to resign or retire after this school year, dropping the number of affected employees to 21.
Last week, the district notified 11 staff members that they would be displaced, while 10 were told they would not be renewed for next year. Of those 21 positions, 11 were general education teachers, eight were specialists and two were in building administration, according to the district.
Since that time, four of the displaced teachers have indicated an interest in taking a transition year before retiring, Stein said. If they follow through, they will remain employees of the district in an instructional position for one more year before taking retirement, he explained.
“We are trying to find as many ways as possible to support those teachers who are affected in finding a new position in the district,” Stein said in a followup interview with the Post Independent.
“Our teacher representatives have been under enormous pressure to try to figure out how to provide better support for the people being affected by this,” Stein added. “They have pressure from their colleagues to be more of an advocate, while continuing to work with us to be as creative as possible to find solutions.”
State law, known as SB-191, does say that teachers who are still within their three-year probationary period with a district to be nonrenewed without cause, while nonprobationary teachers must be provided with a list of vacant positions in the district for which they qualify.
Roaring Fork District policy says those teachers will be placed in a priority hiring pool for those positions. After the school board discussion last week, the district also agreed to give both probationary and nonprobationary teachers first shot at interviews for the remaining Riverview teaching positions, which now numbers about 18.
In addition, Stein explained in an expanded statement on the district website that the district is planning a Riverview job fair this month for all impacted staff, and is offering support through the district’s human resources department to match affected teachers and staff with other positions that open up in the district. Letters of recommendation will also be offered to displaced and nonrenewed staff explaining the situation.
The district is also following up on a recommendation from the teachers association to review the teacher displacement policy that was drafted in 2014 in response to SB-191. Stein said that policy didn’t necessarily envision the current situation, where the opening of a new school is causing teachers to be displaced.
“The statute required us to have a displacement policy, but had we known about this particular circumstance I think the people who worked on that would have been more vigilant,” he said.
Stein said he does not anticipate any more teacher displacements or nonrenewals for enrollment reasons this year.
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