union vs. district

Colorado Supreme Court to hear Denver teachers’ lawsuit challenging “mutual consent”

PHOTO: RJ Sangosti/Denver Post

A lawsuit brought by seven current and former teachers against Denver Public Schools will be taken up by the Colorado Supreme Court, the state’s highest court announced Monday.

The teachers allege DPS is misusing a part of the state’s landmark educator effectiveness law to get rid of teachers with non-probationary status, commonly known as tenure.

Before the law passed in 2010, non-probationary teachers who lost their positions due to circumstances such as decreasing student enrollment were assigned to open positions at other schools, a practice sometimes called “forced placement.”

District leaders didn’t like forced placement for several reasons. They argued that it most often happened at low-income schools, which led to the kids who need the most help disproportionately being taught by teachers who didn’t choose to be there.

So DPS changed its policy. Instead of permanently placing jobless teachers in open positions, the district now gives them temporary assignments with the expectation that the teachers will look for so-called “mutual consent” positions, meaning the principal agrees to hire them.

If a teacher doesn’t find such a position in a certain amount of time, he or she is placed on indefinite unpaid leave. The 2010 law, Senate Bill 191, allows that to happen.

The teachers and the teachers union say it’s unconstitutional to put non-probationary teachers on unpaid leave without cause and a hearing. The impacted teachers aren’t bad teachers and the law is being used to wrongly punish them, they argue.

In January 2014, the seven teachers and the Denver Classroom Teachers Association sued DPS and the State Board of Education (a formality common in lawsuits involving state education law) in Denver District Court. The district court sided with DPS and dismissed the case, ruling in part that putting a teacher on unpaid leave is different than firing her without due process.

The teachers appealed and won. The Colorado Court of Appeals reinstated the case, a decision that led DPS to ask for an opinion from the Colorado Supreme Court.

Now that the state’s high court has taken the case, the parties will be invited to file briefs.

In its announcement Monday, the Colorado Supreme Court said it will examine several issues, including whether the lawmakers who passed Senate Bill 191 “satisfied due process for teachers who were previously entitled to ‘forced placement.’”

“Denver Public Schools is pleased that the Colorado Supreme Court has accepted our request to hear this important case,” Acting Superintendent Susana Cordova said in a statement.

She added that DPS believes lawmakers were right to allow districts to end forced placement, especially because of its effects on high-poverty schools. “If districts must go back to ‘forced placement,’ then those students are the most likely to have teachers who are not the right fit forced into their schools,” she said.

Kerrie Dallman, the president of the Colorado Education Association, said the statewide teachers union is glad the case will be heard by the state’s highest court.

“We are confident the Colorado Supreme Court will reinforce long-standing commitments made by the courts and the legislature that honor the teaching profession and ensure Colorado school districts can no longer deprive students of experienced teachers,” she said in a statement.

Tennessee Votes 2018

Early voting begins Friday in Tennessee. Here’s where your candidates stand on education.

PHOTO: Creative Commons

Tennesseans begin voting on Friday in dozens of crucial elections that will culminate on Aug. 2.

Democrats and Republicans will decide who will be their party’s gubernatorial nominee. Those two individuals will face off in November to replace outgoing Republican Gov. Bill Haslam. Tennessee’s next governor will significantly shape public education, and voters have told pollsters that they are looking for an education-minded leader to follow Haslam.

In Memphis, voters will have a chance to influence schools in two elections, one for school board and the other for county commission, the top local funder for schools, which holds the purse strings for schools.

To help you make more informed decisions, Chalkbeat asked candidates in these four races critical questions about public education.

Here’s where Tennessee’s Democratic candidates for governor stand on education

Former Nashville Mayor Karl Dean and state Rep. Craig Fitzhugh of Ripley hope to become the state’s first Democratic governor in eight years.

Tennessee’s Republican candidates for governor answer the big questions on education

U.S. Rep. Diane Black, businessman Randy Boyd, Speaker of the House Beth Harwell, and businessman Bill Lee are campaigning to succeed fellow Republican Haslam as governor, but first they must defeat each other in the 2018 primary election.

Memphis school board candidates speak out on what they want to change

Fifteen people are vying for four seats on the Shelby County Schools board this year. That’s much higher stakes compared to two years ago when five seats were up for election with only one contested race.

Aspiring county leaders in charge of money for Memphis schools share their views

The Shelby County Board of Commissioners and county mayor are responsible for most school funding in Memphis. Chalkbeat sent a survey to candidates asking their thoughts on what that should look like.

Early voting runs Mondays through Saturdays until Saturday, July 28. Election Day is Thursday, Aug. 2.

full board

Adams 14 votes to appoint Sen. Dominick Moreno to fill board vacancy

State Sen. Dominick Moreno being sworn in Monday evening. (Photo by Yesenia Robles, Chalkbeat)

A state senator will be the newest member of the Adams 14 school board.

Sen. Dominick Moreno, a graduate of the district, was appointed Monday night on a 3-to-1 vote to fill a vacancy on the district’s school board.

“He has always, since I have known him, cared about this community,” said board member David Rolla, who recalled knowing Moreno since grade school.

Moreno will continue to serve in his position in the state legislature.

The vacancy on the five-member board was created last month, when the then-president, Timio Archuleta, resigned with more than a year left on his term.

Colorado law says when a vacancy is created, school board must appoint a new board member to serve out the remainder of the term.

In this case, Moreno will serve until the next election for that seat in November 2019.

The five member board will see the continued rollout of the district’s improvement efforts as it tries to avoid further state intervention.

Prior to Monday’s vote, the board interviewed four candidates including Joseph Dreiling, a former board member; Angela Vizzi; Andrew LaCrue; and Moreno. One woman, Cynthia Meyers, withdrew her application just as her interview was to begin. Candidate, Vizzi, a district parent and member of the district’s accountability committee, told the board she didn’t think she had been a registered voter for the last 12 months, which would make her ineligible for the position.

The board provided each candidate with eight general questions — each board member picked two from a predetermined list — about the reason the candidates wanted to serve on the board and what they saw as their role with relation to the superintendent. Board members and the public were barred from asking other questions during the interviews.

Moreno said during his interview that he was not coming to the board to spy for the state Department of Education, which is evaluating whether or not the district is improving. Nor, he added, was he applying for the seat because the district needs rescuing.

“I’m here because I think I have something to contribute,” Moreno said. “I got a good education in college and I came home. Education is the single most important issue in my life.”

The 7,500-student district has struggled in the past year. The state required the district to make significant improvement in 2017-18, but Adams 14 appears to be falling short of expectations..

Many community members and parents have protested district initiatives this year, including cancelling parent-teacher conferences, (which will be restored by fall), and postponing the roll out of a biliteracy program for elementary school students.

Rolla, in nominating Moreno, said the board has been accused of not communicating well, and said he thought Moreno would help improve those relationships with the community.

Board member Harvest Thomas was the one vote against Moreno’s appointment. He did not discuss his reason for his vote.

If the state’s new ratings this fall fail to show sufficient academic progress, the State Board of Education may direct additional or different actions to turn the district around.