Roaring Fork School District teachers association questions Riverview School hiring plan
An organization representing teachers in the Roaring Fork School District says the district is not doing enough to protect teachers displaced or facing nonrenewal of contracts associated with the opening in the fall of a new school south of Glenwood Springs.
Riverview School, which will take in students from pre-kindergarten through eighth grade, will cause a student enrollment shift, requiring fewer teachers at Sopris Elementary School and Glenwood Springs Middle School.
“After observing the initial hiring at the school, we are very concerned that the focus of the district is not on giving priority to current dedicated, quality district employees,” reads a statement from Roaring Fork Community Education Association President Rhonda Tatham. The district announced last week that up to 24 teachers could be displaced from their jobs or not have their contracts renewed.
“It is unsettling that the opening of a new school in the district and the creation of many new teaching jobs could leave these dedicated professionals without teaching positions, while the district hires teachers from out of the district,” the RFCEA said.
The RFCEA is a member-based chapter of the Colorado Education Association, the state organization representing public school teachers.
Prompting the group’s concerns was a decision by the district allowing Riverview Principal Adam Volek to go ahead and hire 10 of the 30 teachers needed for the new school, set to open for the 2017-18 school year, before it was known how many current teachers would be affected by enrollment changes.
Half of those initial teacher hires came from within the district, primarily from Sopris Elementary on the southern edge of Glenwood Springs, and half from among outside applicants.
“We understand that we might lose some really good teachers in this process,” Rob Stein, superintendent of Roaring Fork Schools, acknowledged. “We did decide to let the principal start to hire some of his staff, partly because we want to have teachers actively engaged in the rest of the hiring decisions and determining the program for the school.”
Because the new school has adopted a dual-language, project-based learning model based on community survey input, some of those initial teacher hires also needed to be bilingual, Stein said.
Volek told the Post Independent in an earlier interview that not all of the teachers hired for the new school will need to be bilingual, and that training to teach in a dual-language school will come through the normal professional development process.
The district anticipates a reduction of 32 total staff positions at schools including Sopris Elementary and Glenwood Springs Middle, from which the new school serving the area south of Glenwood Springs will draw.
An early enrollment preference process conducted in January to help determine staffing levels for next year also revealed an unanticipated decline in enrollment at Carbondale’s Crystal River Elementary School, meaning some teaching positions will be eliminated there as well.
Retirements and other resignations already announced for the end of the current school year reduced the number of likely displacements and nonrenewals to 24, according to the district. Those teachers are to be informed by next week.
Displacement is a term derived from state law applying to teachers with three or more years of service to a district who are in good standing based on satisfactory evaluations, but who become displaced due to enrollment declines. State law requires that displaced teachers be kept on the payroll for at least a year, but with no guarantee what type of position they will be given.
That same law, however, does not allow the district to simply reassign displaced teachers to a new school without the mutual consent of both the teacher and the school administration.
“We owe them employment until August of 2018,” Stein said. “If they don’t get placement, they are still our employees for a year, or until they resign.”
That can include a temporary or special project assignment, or retaining them as a long-term substitute teacher, he said.
Probationary teachers, those who are in their first three years of teaching in the district, can be nonrenewed without cause.
Stein said the district has been working since the fall with the RFCEA, as well as representatives from the Colorado Education Association, to “support and try to help teachers affected by nonrenewal and displacement.”
That includes placing them in a “priority hiring pool” for the new school or any other positions that come open for next school year, he said.
“We are making every effort to try not to let a good teacher go,” Stein said.
RFCEA said in its statement that internal applicants should be given absolute priority over out-of-district applicants for the remaining Riverview teaching positions.
“We believe that keeping experienced educators who are committed to our community will have the most positive impact on our students,” it said.
RFCEA also claims that the state law in question, SB 11-191, has been used by Denver Public Schools to remove classroom teachers and replace them with less-experienced, and thus less expensive teachers.
“These actions have caused commotion in the community and have led to several current lawsuits questioning the legality of their actions,” the RFCEA said. “While it is true that the law does not allow for forced placement of teachers in new buildings, it does not require the district to open these positions to outside applicants.”
Tatham said in the RFCEA statement that the organization requested that displaced teachers in the district be allowed to interview for open positions before positions were opened to applicants outside of the district, “but that request was denied.”
As far as the Roaring Fork district is concerned, the hiring decisions at Riverview are not based on money, Stein said.
“We don’t know the cost of a teacher when we do the hiring, so we don’t have an incentive to hire less-expensive teachers,” he said. “We only hire based on the best fit for a school’s needs.”
Tatham encouraged members of the public to show support for the affected teachers by contacting RFSD school board members, and by attending the school board meeting at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday at Basalt Elementary School.
Stein said the staffing determinations that came as a result of the early enrollment process is a topic of discussion on the board’s agenda.
“We do hope that people will come and express their concerns and listen to the facts,” he said.
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Construction for the South Midland project is on schedule, though crews will continue to work on weekends to keep the course.