Who stays, who goes?

By on March 13, 2009

Kaneland officials, parents, teachers struggle with personnel decisions
by Lynn Meredith
There are no two ways about it: These are tough times for the Kaneland School District. With reduced tax revenues and lack of growth, the district is faced with budget cuts, and with cuts come tough decisions. Parents, teachers and administrators are asking themselves the question no one wants to hear—who stays and who goes?

The School Board accepted, “with regret,” the resignations of 10 full-time teachers and three half-time teachers across the district. It did not renew the contracts of four teachers. On the flip side, it approved the tenure of 34 certified staff members with four years at Kaneland and re-employed 119 first-, second- and third-year teachers.

“Ultimately, there are three reasons why a staff member is let go,” Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources Jeff Schuler said. “On last night’s list, some of those let go were performance-based, some were re-structured positions where we didn’t have a job for that person, and in one case, a teacher came back from leave and we had to displace somebody. It was not performance-based, but we needed to make room.”

Some parents are expressing their concern that the layoffs didn’t make sense. While understanding that the district must make budget cuts, they question why some good teachers were let go.

“We’re not happy with the choice of the teachers being let go,” said Elburn resident Lisa Occhipinti. “I wish there were a better way to decide which ones go and which ones stay.”

Jack Augusty from Elburn voiced his concern at the board meeting. Having been a teacher himself, he said he was aware of looking at the bigger picture, but he commented on the choices.

“There are a few teachers that were let go where it didn’t seem to make a whole lot of sense,” Augusty said. “It seems to make a lot more sense to look at the biggest line items that we have, those teachers that have been there the most time. They are not always some of the best teachers that we have. You hear stories that make you cringe about teachers just putting in their time.”

Augusty believes that a merit system is a better way to rate teachers. Occhipinti would like to see parental input at the end of the year.

“If 75 percent of parents give a teacher all 1’s, maybe it’s time to look at that teacher,” Occhipinti said.

Schuler cautions district residents, when he is asked about the decisions, to be careful with the information they receive about why an individual teacher has been let go.

“Unfortunately, the public is not going to be aware which circumstances apply to which teacher. There can be a lot of miscommunication out there,” He said.

He emphasized that the personnel files of employees are never discussed in public.

“We are never at liberty to discuss individual situations,” Schuler said.

Contrary to the belief that the building principal makes the choice of staff to be laid off, the decision is actually made at the district level, with input from the staff member’s principal.

“The principal would never be making a decision like this on their own. I manage the big picture and work closely with the principal,” Schuler said. “My job is to make sure I’m protecting the integrity of the evaluation process and personnel decisions being made and that I’m confident that valid criteria are applied.”

The administration collaborates with the Kaneland Educator’s Association (KEA) to agree upon the evaluation procedures and process. He said that while he’s never seen an evaluation model that relies on parental input, probably because of too many variables to ensure reliability, he said that a parent can meet with the building principal at any time and give feedback, either positive or negative.

“A parent always has the opportunity to voice their opinion to the building principal,” Schuler said.”

Literacy coach and KEA President Linda Zulkowski said she understands the concerns of parents when they see a favorite teacher go.

“If you have an emotional connection with a teacher, you’re going to have an emotional response to finding out that they’re not coming back,” Zulkowski said.