Non-renewals: The scarlet letter of teaching

Thanks to all the Get Schooled readers who talked to our news folks about non-renewals. The AJC story is in the paper and online today. The story raises questions about the increase in non-renewals.

It seems to me that systems are using non-renewals purportedly based on performance to reduce staffing. Read the entire story as it has some great comments from affected teachers. Has anybody fought a non-renewal and won?

A reader already sent me this concern:

Just read about this terrible dilemma of the “resign or termination” choice in the AJC  this morning.  The author didn’t mention if this affects health insurance.  I think it may:

“The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 contains a provision that gives qualified COBRA participants a 65 percent federal subsidy to pay their COBRA premiums for up to 15 months. You can take advantage of this assistance if you became eligible for COBRA from Sept. 1, 2008, to Feb. 28, 2010. This applies to workers (and their spouses and dependents) who were involuntarily terminated (including those laid off) or had a reduction in work hours that led to loss of health insurance benefits.

Among the points in the AJC piece:

About 1,500 metro Atlanta teachers are expected to get the bad news that their contracts have not been renewed.

Cobb County plans to cut 579 teaching positions to cope with a $137 million deficit. The district plans to tell teachers by May 15 whether their teaching contracts will be renewed for fall.  Fulton expects to cut 200 to 250 teachers in the next week. Clayton has told 312 teachers their contracts would not be renewed, Gwinnett 150, DeKalb 105 and Atlanta 33.

New and veteran teachers alike are worried. Teachers with under four years’ experience don’t have the right to a hearing on the reasons for their non-renewal, said Tim Callahan, a spokesman for the Professional Association of Georgia Educators.

Most districts also give teachers the chance to resign instead of accepting a non-renewal of their contract, which carries some stigma. A resignation, however, means the teacher cannot collect unemployment,  Callahan said. Jay Dillon, spokesman for Cobb County schools, said it’s up to the Department of Labor to decide questions of unemployment.

In the world of education, non-renewal of a teaching contract is like a scarlet letter pinned on a teacher. It’s usually a signal that something is seriously wrong and many districts won’t interview them. Gwinnett County’s teacher application ask applicants if they have ever been non-renewed or if they have resigned in lieu of non-renewal, the district’s spokeswoman said.

Cynthia Wentz, 44, was teaching middle school English in Gwinnett County two months ago when she was called to the principal’s office and told her contract would not be renewed. She was approaching the end of her third year with Gwinnett.

“I was just stunned,” Wentz said. The principal would not give a reason and told Wentz she had about an hour to decide whether she was going to resign or accept the non-renewal, Wentz said.

“Now when a teacher accepts a non-renewal, it’s like saying you accept that you’ve done something totally awful,” Wentz said. “Putting non-renew on a job application – it marks you as a bad teacher. It’s sort of assumed to be performance or attitude or interaction with kids. It’s completely negative.”

Wentz attended a career fair in Walton County in March where signs on the front windows said they would not interview “non-renewals.”

“I had always wanted to be a teacher,” Wentz said. “I’m a single mom and I went back to school and finished college and got a master’s degree in teaching so I could have the career I always wanted,” she said.

She tried to explain her situation: Her evaluations were good and the non-renewal was more of a budget decision on the school’s part.

“I should have heard from them by now,” Wentz said of Walton County schools. “I did not get a call back.” In addition to bearing the mark of non-renewal, Wentz faced competition from 500 other teachers at the fair, she said. “That was mind-blowing and disheartening,” she said.

Veteran teachers are worried as well, with some receiving poor evaluations for their first time in their careers, said Susan Dietz, co-chair of the Gwinnett County Association of Educators.

The number of those recommended for non-renewal nearly tripled in Gwinnett County from 55 last year to 150 this year. Non-renewals also rose in Clayton and DeKalb counties because of tighter budgets, district officials said. In Fulton County traditional performance-based non-renewals will be about 20 this year, spokeswoman Allison Toller said. But budget-related cuts will result in 200 to 250 teachers receiving non-renewals this year.

“We’ve never seen this before,” Toller said.

143 comments Add your comment

Proud Black Man

May 5th, 2010
9:20 am

From the article:

“The Professional Association of Georgia Educators had asked fthe Legislature to create a new type of dismissal category to distinguish traditional non-renewals from non-renewals motivated by budget cuts. The association asked for a category called “non-renewal due to decrease in state funding,” Callahan said. “That way they would not have that stigma.”

The Legislature did not go for the new category, Callahan said.”

Teachers you are being thrown under the bus.

Teachers Get Hosed

May 5th, 2010
9:22 am

Good teachers are getting fired, just to reduce numbers, using trumped up evaluations by “administrators” under pressure to fire people to make budget. Who’s evaluating these administrators? The system used for evaluation is gamed to create negative evaluations—it’s all smoke and mirrors—firing a good teacher is a disgrace.

RG

May 5th, 2010
9:22 am

It’s just a shame that teachers who are being non-renewed not for performance but for “cut-backs” are treated just like all other non-renewals. There has to be a way to deal with the down-sizing without putting a negative label on the affected teachers. Everyone understands that we are in difficult times but its a slap in the face to treat these teachers that way.

Michael

May 5th, 2010
9:27 am

Teaching is a business now. That’s why superintendents call themselves CEO’s. As a result, teachers are just employees, as expendable as anyone else. Good for morale? Not really, especially when a lot of people are throwing away years of college and career. The turnover rate among new teachers is already extraordinary; it will only get higher as the profession is less respected/valued. Eventually they’ll have to look long and hard to find anyone who wants the job.

Fedup

May 5th, 2010
9:30 am

Just remember that every politician who runs for any office will seek votes by promising to support education and prey on the emotions of voters – particularly those with children – teachers – anyone who values the significance of an educated society…and look at the results. Legislators in GA and our Nation in general talk a big game but deliver very little – they get no “kick-back” from educational support….disgusting.

Devil's Advocate

May 5th, 2010
9:32 am

Or maybe, they really are poor teachers and we are finally in an atmosphere where there is an impetus to seriously evaluate a teacher instead of just rubber-stamping “satisfactory” on every evaluation, like has been common practice for years.

True, this should have been done earlier, and more seriously, but complacency in our schools is rampant, with all parties.

There might be a few decent teachers caught up in this, but there is also a lot of necessary fat trimming that will be going on.

An advocate for public education change & choice

May 5th, 2010
9:33 am

The supposed stigma of a “non-renewal” for a teacher is not all together different than what occurs in other industries. In fact, one could argue its more gracious that the manner in which some people are dropped uncermoniously from their place of employment.

If the debate here is around how the teacher performance is evaluated, well then we have a discussion. But to this article seems to suggest that somehow teachers are getting a raw deal with respect to the contract process. Personally I’m not seeing it. I’ve been delivered harsher blows from former employers by comparision.

I must admit for school systems to simply filter out potential teacher candidates on the basis of a non-renewal at some point in there career is representative to me of a shortsighted district policy that the citizens of that district need to take action upon. That is assuming that they care.

Teacher&mom

May 5th, 2010
9:33 am

Several years ago my husband was called to the principal’s office and told his contract would not be renewed. Because he only had three years experience, he was told that they were not required to give him a reason;therefore, they would not offer a reason for the dismissal. They strongly suggested he write a letter of resignation to avoid the stigma of being non-renewed. As he walked out of the office, three more non-tenured teachers were waiting in line for the bad news.

Why were the dismissals necessary? Well….the school system had hired a new head football coach who wanted to bring in his own coaching staff. Luckily, the school happened to have four teachers w/o tenure. Very convenient.

My husband contacted PAGE and was told that he basically didn’t have any rights to fight the dismissal and to offer his letter of resignation so the “scarlet letter” would not be attached to his name. They were no help whatsoever.

He decided to not offer a letter of resignation and sought the advice of a private lawyer. The private lawyer quickly realized that the school system had not given him an official letter of non-renewal before the April 15th deadline; therefore, the school system was required to offer him a contract. It seems that telling a teacher they won’t be renewed isn’t sufficient. The school system is required to notify the teacher in writing before the April 15th deadline (May 15th this year).

An advocate for public education change & choice

May 5th, 2010
9:39 am

With GA being a right to work state, I was under the impression that employees could be fired without “cause” from any place of employ.

Meaning the employer doesn’t have to have a reason per say. The fact that teachers have contracts obligates the school districts to honor the terms of the contract but outside of pure contract terms, there is no real “just cause” that has to be presented for why they deside not to re-new a contract.

Someone please correct me if I’m off base here??

Teaching Used To Be A Noble Profession

May 5th, 2010
9:40 am

I agree with Michael. There is a new paradigm shift, education is being treated as a business. Teachers need to think long and hard about whether to stay in a profession which devalues them to such a degree or move on to something better. What a sad state of affairs for not only Georgia, but our country as well.

DigALittleDeeper

May 5th, 2010
9:42 am

This is horrible. I would get out of teaching completely. I know there are bad teachers, but it also appears that If your principal or someone in administrations doesn’t like you; your goose is cooked.

Nature Dude

May 5th, 2010
9:47 am

It all comes down to money…period. Non-renewals will mean that anyone wanting to stay in teaching will resign to avoid stigma, but this means they will not be able to claim unemployment which in turn saves the state and districts money.

I question the legality of the stigma, because in any other industry if you are a contract employee once you fulfill your contract, you are done. Teachers are contract employees.

Attentive Parent

May 5th, 2010
9:48 am

Georgia statutes give teachers certain rights with respect to dismissal apart from the terms of their contract.

the prof

May 5th, 2010
9:50 am

PBM is not black, do not respond to his comments.

Dawgs2010

May 5th, 2010
9:52 am

Perhaps the counties hired too many teacher a few years ago and this is bringing the number of teachers in each school back to normal. Too bad for the teachers that are being dismissed, but they have a degree. They can find something else in a another field…or they can work the 3rd shift at Waffle House. Their choice.

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Collegestudent

May 5th, 2010
9:54 am

I am currently a college Senior at Mercer University and my degree is in Middle Grades Education. I feel like I have just wasted my 40K education on a degree that is going to be worthless in this state. I would have never dreamed that Education would be laying off teachers!! I didn’t want to get my business degree because I didn’t think the job market would be stable enough for me to find a good job. I see that I was wrong. Wow I feel mislead……

steve

May 5th, 2010
10:06 am

collegestudent: Move to another state. Also, i’m tired of teachers thinking they are so entitled. Thier jobs are no more important than anyone elses in society. I agree with dawgs. Get another job and quit whining. Work at Hardees if necessay.

catlady

May 5th, 2010
10:08 am

Advocate: Per se.

The “contract” you speak so fondly of apparently does not bind the school system to anything, as we have seen this year when systems cut employee pay without the employees agreeing (when they had a validly executed contract).

An advocate for public education change & choice

May 5th, 2010
10:08 am

I would argue that public education has been a business for sometime. The product is quality academic outcomes and quite frankly for too long we’ve positioned people to run these organizations that have not business being in executive management positions.

The unfortunately reality is the business of managing an education organization (ie. the district) or individidual institutions (ie. the school) requires an expanded skill set that isn’t completely encapulated by teaching in the classroom. Although the latter experience would be a big value add.

gwinnett educator (for a few more days)

May 5th, 2010
10:10 am

I resigned. After 14 yrs of teaching, I was not going to wear that letter. I’ve never been a non-renewal. I am an early hire in Virginia having gone on 2 interviews and both principals have requested me. I’m out of here. I wish everyone the BEST!

Tech Grad teacher

May 5th, 2010
10:12 am

There is flip side to the teacher contract. I teach physics in one metro county. I was offered a science dept. head position in another school system last December. The new job was for significantly more pay and responsibility. However, HR in my current system would not let me accept the new job -citing breech of contract – all the while not recognizing the apparent promotion which one of the reasons we are allowed to terminate a teacher contract. So, they won’t release a teacher who wants to leave and then terminate teachers who want to stay.

What good is it?

May 5th, 2010
10:12 am

I am tired of hearing how schools should be run as businesses. We are not a business; we are a school (read the Blueberry Story). It is sad when a state or a system can choose to not re-hire someone due to budget cuts, and said state or system can also not pay according to the contract the teacher has signed. My contract explicitly states that I will be paid “based on the availability of local, state, and federal funds AT THE TIME THIS CONTRACT IS SIGNED.” However, my pay was reduced 15%, and I was furloughed 5 days 4 – 6 months after I signed my contract. Obviously, my contract binds me but not the state or system. In the business world, this would have never happened without repercussions. In education, however, the powers-that-be as well as taxpayers can decide when schools are schools and when schools are businesses, whichever is most convenient for the state and system.

Teacher&mom

May 5th, 2010
10:14 am

Teacher contracts are written to protect the local BOE/employer not the employee. I was told in my School Law class that teacher contracts in GA aren’t really worth much. The professor told us that if the state legislature voted in March to suspend teacher pay, they could because of the language of the teacher contract. GA teachers have very few rights.

Proud Black Man

May 5th, 2010
10:14 am

“I feel like I have just wasted my 40K education on a degree that is going to be worthless in this state.”

That you have. It is no secret that the white right has had public schools in their crosshairs since 1954. Why you may ask? The answer has been apparent since 1956…

http://www.strom.clemson.edu/strom/manifesto.html

A CONSERVATIVE

May 5th, 2010
10:20 am

MAYBE getting a taste of reality will make them better teachers…& quit with the indoctrination….& PC in the classes..& irrelevant courses..

A white CONSERVATIVE

May 5th, 2010
10:21 am

Proud Black Man…..Welcome to REALITY..in 2010..A BRAVE NEW WORLD

What?

May 5th, 2010
10:21 am

Hey Devil’s Advocate,

You can have a degree from Harvard University you still won’t be able to teach kids in any grade if they come to school hungry, displaced, and without paper and pencil. Trust me, I know for a fact. Do me a favor hot shot. Why don’t you substitute teach for one day in the Atlanta Public School system. Then come back and talk about “rubber stamping.”

This goes for anyone who feels the same way.

A white CONSERVATIVE

May 5th, 2010
10:24 am

THE right knows it is indoctrination…not education…that is happening….BLACK HISTORY MONTH…..TOTALLY IRRELEVANT in getting a good job..IRRELEVANT…irrelevant….irrelevant

What?

May 5th, 2010
10:24 am

Oh by the way, I don’t have a degree from Harvard, but I have known a couple of people who did. They came in with the same attitude that you have. They did not make it to Christmas break. Interesting huh?

why???

May 5th, 2010
10:27 am

Sometimes you teachers are so short sighted. If you are ‘forced’ to resign or receive a non-renewal letter, I would resign. I would make sure that I sent email to the principal stating that given the choice to resign or receive non-renewal then I regretfully will resign as per the conversation we had on X date. I would make sure I copied myself via email and print out before my last day. I would document every single conversation with the principal that lead up to the event.

I would then present all of my documentation at the unemployment hearing. Just because you resign doesn’t automatically mean that you don’t qualify for unemployment. If you are forced to resign under duress the employer will lose.

I used to work at DOL and know the policy. You, as the employee just need to document that you have been forced to resign under duress. You may be denied at first but there is a whole appeal process for cases just like the one describe above.

I respect your profession. Teachers are undervalued and are getting the short, messy side of the stick on their contracts. However, sometimes you have to stand up for yourself. Any school system that won’t find out why your contract was not renewed especially with the high rate of non-renewals this year is short sighted. Why would you want to continue to work for an entire system that treats you like yesterday’s garbage?

Firings

May 5th, 2010
10:28 am

Good teachers are getting shafted by “administrators” using trumped up evaluations meant to fire people. Who’s evaluating these administrators—most do little work and are way overpaid. The teacher evaluation system is an embarrassment.

John Q

May 5th, 2010
10:29 am

steve

May 5th, 2010
10:06 am
“Thier jobs are no more important than anyone elses in society.”

I guess you are correct given your 2nd grade spelling error! Can I also assume that you taight yourself how to read?

Mac

May 5th, 2010
10:34 am

Principal bashers – please realize that administrators in this state do not have tenure for the most part either. They either do as directed by HR and the Superintendent or get non-renewed themselves. They have families and mortgages too. Those who stand up for teachers will find themselves out and then the HR underground begins making them unemployable unlike anything a teacher will experience or imagine. A ‘non-compliant’ principal is systematically blackballed like you would not believe!

Proud Black Man

May 5th, 2010
10:39 am

@ A white CONSERVATIVE

“THE right knows it is indoctrination…not education…that is happening….BLACK HISTORY MONTH…..TOTALLY IRRELEVANT in getting a good job..IRRELEVANT…irrelevant….irrelevant”

Another tea bagger whose frontal lobes have been permanently damaged due to their deviant practices.

William Casey

May 5th, 2010
10:40 am

Sooner or later someone will challenge the concept of teachers’ “contracts” in court. At present, these documents are so one-sided that they aren’t “contracts” at all. Much more like the “protection” racket employed by the Mob. Unions have their downside but teachers can’t be treated this way in union states.

Proud White Man

May 5th, 2010
10:54 am

Proud Black Man- Let me explain simply why Public Education/Educators are being cut…there is NOT enough revenue coming in to the State, Fed, and Local Governments to pay for them!!! Why, you ask??? Answer- There are very wealthy people in this country who make this economy turn…I mean, these folks have wealth like you wouldn’t believe… business owners who provide jobs (which means more tax payers), property owners, corporations, banks, etc. These folks ALREADY pay a great deal of money to the government…well now, Obama and his radical left friends in office, want to mandate that they pay MORE in taxes…so what do they do??? They HIDE their money so it can’t be touched! When they hide their money (take it out of the economy), the rest of us suffer (ex. loss of revenue to the fed., state, and local gov.) It’s your awesome president Obama and the left that wants to mandate everything which scares off these wealthy folks. Obama just can’t stand the thought of someone making too much…this is your CHANGE pal! Deal with it!

Jefferson Jackson

May 5th, 2010
10:57 am

A sad day for education in Georgia, a state known for “sad days” in education. My lord, we have some of the lowest performing students in the nation due in great part ti a state legislature notoriously blind to what it costs to fund good schools. Shame on Georgia!

schooling2010

May 5th, 2010
10:58 am

The non-renewal process is not as easy as Ms. Wentz has stated in this article. One must go through a PDP (Professional Development Plan) before he/she is non-renewed. The process in not one that just happens in a “closed” door process as she stated. I think that it’s important that readers have a clear understanding of the non-renewal process. I would question WHY if I have received satisfactory observations for two years what changed this year. There is a legal process that one can pursue as well. Also, I think it’s important to note that the GTEP is outdated and is not standards based. The average teacher can put on a dog and pony show for a 20 minute observation.

Scared Younger Teacher

May 5th, 2010
10:58 am

I am home today because of a funeral so I took time to comment.I was non-renewed last year from a metro system due to budget cuts. The letter I recieved made me sound like I was a horrible teacher. I spent six months interviewing. It felt like I was a criminal in some cases. I luckily found a fantastic teaching position last June. Now I am facing another possible layoff based on a point system. I have perfect evaluations this year. My parents and kids love me. I love the teachers I work work. I may be gone because of a point system. The cut off for advanced degrees to be counted for the point system is May 15. I will have my Masters this summer. It is frustrating. I am tired of losing sleep and sanity over my career because someone can lay me off. I have taught for almost four years in different systems, and those years do not matter. I have a co-worker with 17 years experience in Georgia, but she may be laid off because only two of those years are in our district.

My husband and I want to start a family, but we cannot if I lose my job. I have the insurance. My husband was laid off last year. He now works as a freelance writer for his former company, but they can terminate his contract at any moment. He does not recieve any benefits. I am just tired and afraid.

Nona

May 5th, 2010
10:58 am

It’s perfectly fair not to renew a contract. What’s NOT fair is that a non-renewal at one school means you are exiled from your profession forever, regardless of the reason for the non-renewal. Yes, people get fired in the business world, but it doesn’t obliterate your chances of ever getting another job in your field like a contract non-renewal in education does. By no stretch of the imagination is that practice within the spirit or intent of right-to-work laws.

It’s one thing not to be renewed because of poor performance or unprofessionalism. In those cases, stigmatization is understandable. It’s another thing to not be renewed because of budget cuts or an because an administrator has a grudge against you. You shouldn’t be branded as unhireable at all schools and exiled from your profession for those reasons.

I’m astounded that so many people here can’t make that distinction. If we want good teachers to stay in the profession, why are we blacklisting potential-filled, growing teachers with 1-3 years of experience just because they got caught in a web of bad timing from a budgeting perspective? Makes no sense at all.

I would agree that public education has been a business for sometime, and that the product is quality outcomes. One difference is that businesses have some control over their raw materials, production supplies and processes. If flat tires start coming off the assembly line, good managers shut down the assembly line, fix the machinery, and get whatever new supplies or raw materials are needed to fix it. They don’t just fire the assembly workers and expect the problem to be solved. The most successful businesses also empower their workers to solve problems that enable them to produce the best products possible without asking permission and going through layers of bureaucracy. Great businesses take enormous pains to hire and keep the best and the brightest and to provide them with the resources to do their jobs and the incentives to stay at them.

There is a lot that the education system can take from the business world, but it starts with management, not with the employees. I don’t think anybody would argue that an employee fired from a tire assembly line because of budget cuts wouldn’t be able to get a job at another tire assembly line. So why would do think it’s OK to do that to teachers?

In no way is it a sensible practice to yoke good, growing teachers with an unjustified, career-ending stigma because of budget cuts. In fact, it’s counterproductive to the very goals we’re supposedly trying to accomplish with our public education system.

Proud White Man

May 5th, 2010
11:00 am

Proud Black Man-
“Another tea bagger whose frontal lobes have been permanently damaged due to their deviant practices”

AHHHH YES, when you can’t use facts to support claims, then result to name calling…

Michael

May 5th, 2010
11:00 am

Whoever said teachers’ jobs are no more important than anyone elses’ is apparently placing educating children on a par with cooking hamburgers or selling insurance. Some jobs are more important, face it. Sadly, the lack of respect toward education has been building for 50 years and may finally be coming to a head. Without an educated society, we will very soon loose what hold we have left on the world as we know it.

Michael

May 5th, 2010
11:06 am

And to whomever (correct usage?) mentioned irrelevant courses, sometimes you learn for the sake of learning. It’s part of being well-rounded. Everything doesn’t have to translate to a grade or a promotion. Knowledge has its own uses, whether or not it seems relevant at the time.

high school teacher

May 5th, 2010
11:06 am

Nona, well said.

Sid Camp

May 5th, 2010
11:07 am

Two points:

1. Typically, but sadly, no one from Gwinnett comments about this because they are cowards.

2. I hope, really hope that these school systems get sued, lose a ton of money, have their outdated Administration overhauled from the Mr. Potter’s of the world to the 21st century AND teachers find a real collective voice….

good luck.

the prof

May 5th, 2010
11:08 am

Don’t fall into PBM’s trap….he isn’t black. Kind of sad that someone is trying to take away from contructive commentary.

the prof

May 5th, 2010
11:09 am

“constructive”

Randy

May 5th, 2010
11:12 am

The public education system has been broken for years people! Has nothing to do with a specific President. The government as a whole has failed the american people regarding education PERIOD! Now, the system employee’s will pay for the mistakes of our government. There is a REAL reason that Private Schools are successful. Of course there are great teachers in the public school system. But, the real loosers in this is the children. Because of the arrogance of our government (Democrates and Rupublicans), they have over staffed and under invested in the public school system for years! Unfortunetly, now it’s time to pay the piper.

SELL you big cars and big housed. Cancel your cell phone contracts and get your kids in a good private school.

A Choice for Georgia

May 5th, 2010
11:13 am