School board asked to close Riverview hiring to outside applicants
Teachers impacted by enrollment shifts in Roaring Fork Schools next year will be first in line to at least interview and be considered for the remaining openings at the new Riverview School outside Glenwood Springs.
However, the school district will not close the hiring process for the school and any other positions that come open in the district to internal applicants only, despite pleas by dozens of teachers and parents who spoke before the Roaring Fork District school board at a meeting Wednesday night in Basalt.
“We need some priority and surety for our teachers who are being displaced by this,” board member Matt Hamilton said of the 24 teachers who are to be informed by next week that they will either be displaced, in the case of longer-term teachers, or notified that their contracts are not being renewed next year in the case of teachers who are still within their three-year probationary period with the district.
State law says probationary teachers can be let go without cause, while those with more than three years in the district who are displaced by enrollment changes or other reasons must be kept on in some capacity for another year.
The loss of teaching positions at Sopris Elementary School and Glenwood Springs Middle School for the 2017-18 school year are due to intended enrollment shifts to the new school, which will serve students from preschool/kindergarten through eighth grade in the area immediately south of Glenwood Springs. The $34 million Riverview School was part of the $122 million bond package approved by district voters in 2015.
A recent early enrollment preference process also revealed a likely continued drop in student numbers at Crystal River Elementary School in Carbondale, meaning teaching positions there are to be eliminated, as well.
About 60 teachers and parents packed the school board meeting at Basalt Elementary School to air their concerns that, as a combined result of state law and district policy, impacted teachers are not being given first shot at the 30 teaching positions at Riverview. Ten of those positions have already been filled, half of which went to internal applicants and the other half to applicants from outside the district.
Sherah Witt, who has students at Sopris Elementary, said morale has been low at the school over the uncertainty about which teachers are to be displaced or nonrenewed and whether they will be given jobs at the new school.
“If you have walked the halls of Sopris Elementary on any given day over the past few weeks, you will have seen and felt the hopelessness and fear among our loved teachers,” said Witt, who took to social media to rally support for teachers after the district announced last week the number of teaching positions that would be impacted.
She accused district administration of “devaluing” qualified teachers locally by hiring less-experienced teachers from outside the district.
Rhonda Tatham, president of the Roaring Fork Community Education Association, which represents teachers in the district, said the association wants to work with the district to do what’s right for the affected teachers.
“Taking trained teachers out of the classroom is not good for our students,” she said. “We want to make sure these teachers remain in our district, and they need to be prioritized for these open positions.”
Rob Stein, superintendent of Roaring Fork Schools, said the district is doing everything it can to find placement for all of the impacted teachers. But Riverview and its principal, Adam Volek, also want to hire teachers that provide the best match for the school, he said.
Due to what’s called the “mutual consent” provision in Colorado’s SB-191, which went into law in 2011, districts can’t simply transfer displaced or nonrenewed teachers to a different school without both the teacher’s and the school administration’s consent, Stein reiterated.
“We can’t close the (hiring) pool without seeing the full range of applicants,” he said. “Ultimately, we want what’s best for the kids, and what’s best for the schools.”
In a typical year, Stein said the district also hires up to 60 positions in schools from Glenwood Springs to Basalt, due to retirements and resignations. The district has asked any teachers who are considering retirement or leaving the district for any other reason to let that be known as soon as possible, so that there are more hiring options for the teachers being impacted by the enrollment shifts.
Teachers with more than three years in the district that are being displaced are automatically placed in a priority hiring pool for any other positions that open up in the district, including the Riverview positions. The school board Wednesday asked that teachers who are facing nonrenewal also be given interviews for the Riverview jobs before outside applicants.
The district will also seek legal counsel to see if there’s any “wiggle room” in the mutual consent clause to give greater weight to hiring from within. The district’s own policies regarding displaced teachers, which was written in response to SB-191, will also be reviewed.
However, Stein warned that any delays in hiring teachers for the new Riverview School could delay its planned opening for the start of next school year.
“We have asked our principal (Volek) to open the school on a tight timeline,” Stein said. “If we don’t let him move forward with what needs to be done to open the school, we are tying his hands.”
At the same time, “we will continue to work on ways to help everybody land on their feet,” he said.
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