Teachers and administrators implicated in the Atlanta cheating scandal are resisting district pressure to resign their positions. An AJC story notes that one reason may be that they have little real incentive to do so.
Last week, APS made an offer to the 60 educators who face the most serious allegations: Quit to avoid receiving a “charge letter,” the first step in the firing process, and one that can undermine their careers. Only five accepted the offer, although others are apparently still weighing the option.
This protracted and costly process is frustrating taxpayers and parents, but the AJC story notes that educators have job protection rights, meaning they can only be fired for eight reasons and it’s up to the school district to prove their guilt. They can request a hearing to challenge the firing and can appeal the decision up to the state Supreme Court. Members of teacher advocacy groups have access to legal aid, which covers attorney fees during this lengthy process.
That means taxpayers will be on the hook for what is shaping up to be a costly firing process. The district has spent $6.2 million paying the salaries of suspended educators, an expense that increases $600,000 a month. Legal fees have cost the district at least $700,000 and will likely climb as APS attorneys work to build cases against about 120 educators still on the payroll. Those fired may be entitled to employment hearings, which average $9,000 a person.
In the meantime, the district plans to issue charge letters on a case-by-case basis. Superintendent Erroll Davis said Friday the district will start with those who confessed, and other egregious cases. “If in fact they have done these things, if in fact the conclusions are inevitable, I think the benefits of resigning would outweigh the benefits of staying on the payroll for a couple of months,” he said.
Most job applications ask educators whether they have resigned to avoid being fired. Once a charge letter is issued, the educator must answer “yes,” said Ted Frankel, who represents at least four educators named in the report. But that same incentive doesn’t really apply to teachers implicated in the APS case. “There is some feeling that if they apply to other school systems, saying they resigned puts them in a better position than being terminated,” he said. “In this case, you have to be on another planet not to know what’s going on in Atlanta.”
Frankel said one of his clients, who confessed to cheating, decided to resign. He has criminal immunity and has fully cooperated with investigators. Teachers who have confessed may have a hard time defending themselves in an employment hearing, he said, since the APS case has garnered so much attention. In a normal scenario, a tribunal may take into account why the teacher cheated, and opt for a reduced punishment. In this case, APS will ask whether the teacher indeed confessed, and the hearing will essentially be over, Frankel said.
–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog