Some teachers left out in RFSD shuffle
An awkward situation created when Roaring Fork Schools decided to build the new Riverview School south of Glenwood Springs has resulted in a lot of hardship for several teachers who, as a result, found themselves without a job.
The new elementary/middle school (preK-8), part of the school district’s $122 million bond package approved by voters in 2015, is meant to take some of the load off of existing schools that had been experiencing overcrowding for several years.
But that enrollment shift away from Sopris Elementary School and Glenwood Springs Middle School in particular resulted in numerous teachers being told they were not guaranteed reassignment for the upcoming school year.
State law provides that teachers cannot simply be reassigned from one school to another without mutual consent between the employee and the principal of the school where they would be moved.
But the district agreed to put all of the displaced teachers, those with three or more consecutive years in the district, as well as the newer teachers who were still on probationary status, into a priority hiring pool for the new Riverview positions or any others that came open in the district.
It was something for which longtime Sopris Elementary School teacher Mary Murphy said she and others like herself weren’t quite prepared.
Murphy decided to share her personal story after it became apparent she would not be offered a new position. She’s now looking at early retirement instead.
“The morning that I got the news from the school district, I had said to a family member, ‘The worst that can happen is I’ll be displaced,’” Murphy said.
That would have meant she’d be guaranteed work for at least one more school year in a temporary assignment, with pay and benefits.
“Plus, I’ve been paying union dues for all these years, so they’ll help me if the district treats me unfairly,” she surmised at the time.
What she didn’t account for was the fact that, three years ago, she decided to step away from classroom teaching for a year and worked as a substitute teacher. That meant she lost her nonprobationary status, even though she had been with the district for over 10 years.
This past school year being her second year back on the regular district payroll, she was nonrenewed instead of displaced. And, as an English language development teacher, which is her specialty, there were very few job openings that matched her expertise.
“The priority hiring pool has included many middle school, high school and bilingual positions,” Murphy said. The latter of those relates to the district’s decision to make Riverview a dual language school, which further complicated matters for some of the affected teachers who were not credentialed to teach in a dual language classroom.
“The one job I have been able to apply for was only offered for a couple of days before being filled internally,” Murphy said, adding she was not given an interview.
Most of the affected teachers have at least been guaranteed interviews, but in many cases, even after multiple interviews, they are still without jobs.
As of last week, the priority hiring pool still included 13 of the 24 teachers who were either displaced or nonrenewed, according to a June 12 written report from district Human Resources Director Nikki Jost to the Roaring Fork School District board. Of those, six were still actively applying for some of the 17 positions still open for next school year.
“When a building notifies Human Resources of an open position, all individuals in the priority hiring pool are immediately notified and given five days to apply,” Jost explained in her report. “If a priority hiring pool member applies for a position for which they are qualified, they are guaranteed an interview.”
If the position is not filled by an applicant in the priority hiring pool, then it is opened up to other internal and external applicants.
“Regardless of when they apply, they are still guaranteed an interview,” Jost said.
Some of the displaced and nonrenewed teachers were from other district schools not affected by the opening of the Riverview School, including Crystal River Elementary and Carbondale Middle School.
As of June 12, seven of the 24 teachers who were either displaced or were nonrenewed had found positions in the district, two retired or resigned, and three found positions outside the district, she said.
One other affected teacher who did not want her name used said she believes that the situation was handled poorly from the beginning and that older teachers ended up being let go in favor of younger teachers still on probation. Several teachers were also hired for the new school from the Front Range, she noted.
“When the district first started talking about building a new school and asked us to get behind the bond issue, we were all told we would have better jobs and less-crowded classrooms,” she said.
“Even just six months ago they said, ‘Rest assured, you’ll have new jobs,’” she added.
As things played out, that didn’t end up being the case, she said, adding that not only were older teachers impacted; some younger teachers have been forced to uproot their families and leave the district, she said.
“It’s been brutal on some of these teachers,” she said.
Jost could not be reached for comment for this story, but said in a previous interview earlier in the spring that the district used several criteria for determining which teachers would be displaced or nonrenewed.
“We looked at the needs of the schools and the district, and took a look at a variety of things related to individual teachers,” she said, adding that experience, years of service to the district and performance played into it.
Both the district and the Roaring Fork Community Education Association, the union that represents teachers in the district, vowed to do what they could within state law and under district policy to give the affected teachers a fair shake. Still, there were no guarantees.
The district’s Interest-Based Bargaining committee is also planning to review the district’s policy relating to displaced teachers in the coming year to see what changes might be made to better protect teachers who are impacted by intended shifts in enrollment from one school to another.