Dear Decaturish – Can City Schools of Decatur extend a common professional courtesy?City Schools of Decatur Board of Education: (left to right) Garrett Goebel, Vice Chair Tasha White, Superintendent Dr. David Dude, Chair Lewis Jones, Annie Caiola, and Heather Tell.
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Editor’s note: Prior to publishing this letter, Decaturish reached out to City Schools of Decatur for a response. CSD’s response is published beneath this letter.
A policy in City Schools of Decatur teacher contracts unfairly punishes teachers for a staffing problem inherent to the education profession. A few teachers at DHS recently accepted job offers from other school districts after having signed our teacher contract for next school year. We are each being penalized $800 to be released from our contracts. The fact that this penalty is clearly spelled out in the teacher contract only underscores a CSD policy choice to punish individual teachers for a statewide institutional problem.
Around the end of March to early April each year, school districts throughout Georgia start giving contracts to their current teachers for the following school year. Teachers typically have two weeks to sign a contract stating they will return to teach the next school year. Each year a small percentage of teachers know they will NOT return the subsequent year for any number of reasons including retirement, family relocation, etc. This number is relatively small. By and large, school districts do not post job openings for most of their positions until they have received the signed contracts from their current staff. Did you catch the problem? Once signed contracts are returned, then and only then, do most job openings get posted. In the following weeks, there is crescendo and decrescendo of job postings, interviews, and new hires as the reshuffling takes place. Therefore, teachers learn about other opportunities only after signing (or gambling on having not signed) a contract for the next year. This poses a pretty tough gamble for teachers like myself, who must weigh their professional aspirations against the obligation to provide for a family.
City Schools of Decatur could extend a simple professional courtesy to teachers to ameliorate this common problem. Some districts in the metro-Atlanta area recognize this systemic problem and provide a clause in teacher contracts stating that a teacher may be released from their contract without penalty by a certain date around early May. This time window from mid April to early May seems to account for much of the shuffling and reshuffling inherent to the statewide staffing calendar. For sure, this domino effect of open positions and reshuffling of staff creates a burden on administrators who are competing for high quality staff. But this still provides time for new staff to be found long before the start of the following school year. In fact, a number of school districts extended this exact courtesy to teachers hired by DHS after the mid April contract period.
Teachers, probably owing to their lower pay, typically are not gamblers. We must be more conservative in our financial decisions, so we wait to see if a job is available before resigning. Until a better system of transferring can be created, City Schools of Decatur is imposing a policy (which other neighboring districts do not) to penalize teachers for an industry problem beyond their control.
When I offered my letter of resignation, I was treated with the utmost respect and offered sincere well wishes. It has been a joy to teach at DHS, but my professional strengths drew me to options where I had more to offer. My resignation has already enabled DHS to replace me with someone more experienced in filling my spot. Yet I, and others like me are being penalized. The release policy stands in contrast to the values of equity and fairness being taught in the classrooms of CSD. In the absence of a district or statewide leadership to solve the problem of staff changes, it is a policy I suggest needs revisiting by the School Board as matter of common professional courtesy.
– Dave Pittman
Here is the response from City Schools of Decatur:
It is important to have highly qualified teachers in classrooms ready to greet students from day one and onward. An enforceable contract allows the District to plan effectively year to year and to prepare for the hiring season as soon as possible to be competitive with other school districts. Losing teachers after contracts have been signed puts our students at risk of not having a highly qualified educator to lead their classroom right from the first day of school. It also negatively affects other teachers, who benefit from predictability in their collaborative planning teams.
Like other local school districts, CSD has a contract-termination fee for employees who make an initial commitment to the district (i.e. by signing the contract) and then renege on that commitment. This contract stipulation has been in place in CSD for three years, and there is prominent wording about contract release. Prior to adopting this practice, CSD had little effective recourse when teachers broke their contracts and had problems with some teachers leaving right before the start of school and throughout the school year. This is extremely disruptive to students and negatively impacts their learning.
As a professional courtesy, CSD treats resignations over the summer differently than middle-of-the-year resignations in that we do not typically report summer contract terminations to the Georgia Professional Standards Commission.
Ultimately, CSD must focus on hiring and staffing our schools with the best teachers for our students, and having enforceable language in our contracts allows us to better ensure that outcome.
– City Schools of Decatur