PAGE Statement to Members Regarding Proposed Waiver of Title 20 Sections
As you may know, Fulton County is proposing to make significant changes in their contractual relationships with educators by waiving certain portions of Title 20, the section of Georgia Code which covers public education. Fulton County Schools is a “charter system” and as such has the authority to seek waivers from the state for any and all portions of Title 20 as they are now doing.
While PAGE has supported the charter concept, we have always done so with the caveat that care must be taken in waiver requests so that they promote what is best for students and student achievement and that damage is not done to the education process. This recent action by Fulton County Schools highlights our previously expressed concerns.
The proposed waivers would:
* Create a 90 day probationary period for newly hired/contracted personnel during which time the employee will be considered an “at-will” employee.
* No longer offer employment contracts to part-time teaching/certified personnel.
* No longer offer employment contracts to central (non-school based) personnel.
a.) Taken together, these measures would in our opinion, create an education environment of great uncertainty for educators, students and parents alike. We do not believe that 90 days is sufficient time in all cases for an educator to prove themself, especially in situations where a beginning teacher may well be qualified and competent, but could benefit from mentoring. This proposal may not be in the best interest of students who could have a new teacher just three months into school year. We must also consider that “at-will” goes both ways. These new at-will teachers could quit anytime with no advance notice. Again, this is very problematic for students and parents.There is a reason contracts are a part of our schools, providing a measure of continuity of instruction as they do. The most cited reason for issuing yearlong contracts to educators is the negative effect on students cause by teacher turnover. The Professional Standards Commission has codified this in Standard 8 of the Code of Ethics for educators, Abandonment of Contract.It is an ethics violation to break a contract, the underlying reason being the turmoil created for students.
We also question how such a policy will effect new teacher recruitment. The same concerns can be made regarding part-time teachers.
The classroom uncertainty that would be created by these proposals is mirrored at the central level as well. Fulton County Schools could well see an exodus of talented central office personnel who could choose contractual employment at any of the other metro area school systems.
Three additional proposals are troubling as well:
*No appeal of employee complaints to the board of education- final decision to be made by the superintendent.
*Superintendent given sole authority to suspend an employee for up to 20 days.
*Termination of contract of “non-tenured” educator – No right to call witnesses in a hearing. Appeal only allows 30 minute oral argument.
A system of checks and balances has long been established in public education and it is one that protects both the employee and employer in that it provides oversight and due process. To simply empower the superintendent in this manner runs roughshod over a set of policies and procedures that have long served all parties.
As proposed, there is no requirement that the superintendent have the burden of proving cause for termination and no procedure for the educator to establish a real defense by calling and placing witnesses under oath. This has troubling implications on legal due process.
Finally, the proposals remove the requirement of a duty free lunch for elementary educators and place the decision in the hands of individual administrators. This seems to be a recipe for problematic decision making, which varies from building to building and would have a detrimental impact of staff morale, staff continuity and recruitment potential. Based on our experience the law was put in place because most administrators will remove the duty free lunch period if given the opportunity. Constant supervision of K-5 students is stressful and time consuming, hence the need for this law. In many cases this is a teacher’s only opportunity to eat and use the restroom. Taking away that privilege, and not providing another break, may lead to severe health issues for teachers. We have seen this happen on numerous occasions. This will not only create more turmoil when teachers are out of school but will increase the cost of insurance and cause the school to spend more money on substitutes
The charter system definition gives Fulton County Schools a free hand in requesting waivers of Title 20 sections. Many charter related waivers have already been granted by the state board of education and many of them show potential in enhancing student achievement. But not all waiver requests are equally beneficial. We believe the waivers being currently proposed are not in the best interests of students or educators. We encourage all members of the Fulton Schools community to speak out on these proposals using all appropriate avenues to register their concerns.
We encourage PAGE members to be constructive in their criticism, to refrain from participating in or fueling the “rumor mill,” and to remain positive and professional. In addition to communicating concerns to the school community, we also encourage our members to stay in touch with the PAGE legal department.