Due process vitally important to our teachers -- a protective tool corporate reformers want to take off the table

Andrew Spar, president Volusia County Teacher Organization / Headline Surfer®By ANDEW SPAR
President, Volusia Teachers Organization,
the union representing 3,158 instructors
Guest blog written exclusively for Headline Surfer®
 

DAYTONA BEACH -- There has been a lot of talk about due process for teachers over the past few years.

Recently, a California court struck down a state law that provides teachers with due process, also known as tenure. Florida, which really has never had tenure, did away with continuing contracts in 2011, for anyone who did not have that right already.

Tenure is often misunderstood. It is often characterized as a job-for-life status. That is simply not true. Tenure means that before a teacher can be fired, the administration must have a valid reason for terminating the teacher.

Tenure is often misunderstood. It is often characterized as a job-for-life status. That is simply not true. Tenure means that before a teacher can be fired, the administration must have a valid reason for terminating the teacher.

Typically, in the first three years of employment, a teacher may be terminated without cause. But once the teacher has demonstrated professional competence, they would earn due process protection.

Why is this so important?

Unlike many jobs, it is important for teachers to be able to advocate for students. Sometimes that role may mean challenging the decision of a superior to ensure that the student is getting what they need and deserve. Teachers need the assurance that when they speak up for students, their jobs will not be in jeopardy.

Unlike many jobs, it is important for teachers to be able to advocate for students. Sometimes that role may mean challenging the decision of a superior to ensure that the student is getting what they need and deserve. Teachers need the assurance that when they speak up for students, their jobs will not be in jeopardy.

One of my greatest fears in Florida is that fewer teachers will feel safe speaking up for students who need a true advocate.

When I started teaching at Turie T. Small Elementary in Daytona Beach in 1994, I was among eight new teachers hired that year. The next year, a dozen new teachers were hired, and in my third year, 15 additional new teachers where hired. That had been the trend at Turie T. Elementary for many years.

Andrew Spar and others with Volusia Teachers Organization / Headline Surfer®Photo for Headline Surfer® /
Andrew Spar, president of the Volusia Teachers Organization, is shown in this Aug. 3, 201,  photograph with union Vice President Barbara Hoffman, Executive Board member Elizabeth Albert and staff member Primrose Cameron, PhD. The union represents 3,158 Volusia County school teachers. That representation accounts for 72% of the district's teaching staff.
 

Teachers were constantly leaving, and as a result,  Turie T. Elementary, was rated as one of the lowest performing schools in the Volusia County district.

Once the school and the district addressed teacher turn over, student performance improved. For the next several years, teacher turn-over at Turie T. Elementary averaged less than three teachers leaving in any given year.

I say all of this, because stability is so vitally important in our schools, especially our struggling schools. Students need consistency in their lives, and schools should not be an exception. Due process not only ensures that teachers are free to speak up and advocate for kids, but it also keeps teachers in the profession and in the district.

Think about this: If a teacher has due process rights, they are more likely to stay in the district they currently work in. Without due process protections, there is little that keeps a teacher from leaving for another district or profession that might pay more or be in a more preferred location.

Due process creates loyalty to a district and in turn, shows loyalty to the employee. When you think about it, most jobs offer some kind of due process to employees. The employer has to take steps to terminate your employment.

This is not the case for teachers in Florida where school districts actually have to take action to keep a teacher employed for another school year. If they do not want to keep a teacher, they simply do not give them a new contract. No reason has to be given.

Even if the teacher has great evaluations, a district may choose to not issue a new contract. So why do corporate reformers push so hard to end due process for teachers? They claim it is because tenure protects bad teachers. They assume that we have a lot of bad teachers in our schools. However, there simply is no research to back that up.

Even if the teacher has great evaluations, a district may choose to not issue a new contract. So why do corporate reformers push so hard to end due process for teachers? They claim it is because tenure protects bad teachers. They assume that we have a lot of bad teachers in our schools. However, there simply is no research to back that up.

Of course, like any profession, there are some teachers who do not perform well and need to be advised to leave the profession. That already happens every year in schools across the county.

The vast majority are great teachers who do all they can to assist their students. Teachers often face insurmountable challenges with limited resources and support and yet find ways to get through to children.

Instead of supporting teachers, corporate reformers are trying to reduce the time teachers spend in the profession. Some of these corporate reformers have suggested that teachers should be in the profession for no more than 10 years. Corporate reformers have also said that experience in teaching does not matter, nor does expanding one’s knowledge.

These ideas serve to only de-professionalize the work teachers do every day and force teachers to leave the profession sooner. By shortening the time teachers are in the profession, you reduce the costs of paying teachers.

The problem is, this approach is based on finances rather than what is best for students. That is where the real issues lie. Those outside of our schools see our schools and students as dollar signs. Those who work inside them and parents see our schools and students as the future of our community and country.

The problem is, this approach is based on finances rather than what is best for students. That is where the real issues lie. Those outside of our schools see our schools and students as dollar signs. Those who work inside them and parents see our schools and students as the future of our community and country.

Let’s stop blaming teachers for all the faults in our schools and let’s start listening to them. Those in power are doing great, long lasting harm to our schools. 

We have to do more to convince these corporate reformers to change course.

Guest Blogger Bio: Andrew Spar, Volusia Teachers Organization

Volusia teachers union president Andrew Spar and family / Headline Surfer®Andrew Spar is shown here at left with his family.
 
• Spar, 42, is president of the Volusia Teachers Organization, the union representing instructional staff in Volusia County, that includes 3,158 teachers.
• Since being elected in May 2003, membership in the union under Spar has grown from 60% to more than 72% of the 4,380 teachers of the teachers in Volusia County Public Schools employed in the 2013-'14 school year.  This makes VTO one of the largest unions in the Sunshine State. Teachers must elect to join the union in Florida.

• Spar started teaching elementary music in 1994, at Turie T. Small Elementary in Daytona Beach after earning his bachelor's degree from Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio. He spent nine years at Turie T. Small before being elected president of the Volusia Teachers Organization.
• Among Spars' current board services:
-- Executive Cabinet of the Florida Education Association;
-- Executive Board of the Florida AFL-CIO;
-- Teacher Policy Committee of the American Federation of Teachers.

* Andrew Spar and his wife, Vernell, have two daughters, ages 5 and 10.
 

Headline Surfer® Multimedia: Teacher of the Year

Grace Kellermeier, French teacher and coach from New Smyrna Beach High, was named Volusia County Schools' "Teacher of the Year 2015," at a banquet on Feb. 28.
"We are so proud of our teachers here in Volusia County, and we love to take any opportunity we can to highlight how amazing they are," said Sam Willett, FUTURES president. "Our board feels very strongly that our teachers need to be praised, validated and celebrated as an incredible group of professionals."
In addition to Kellermeier, four other teachers received special recognition as finalists:Debra Abadia, 4th grade teacher at Spruce Creek Elementary; Amy M. Dempsey, Language Arts teacher at Heritage Middle; Emily Kristine Light, Music teacher at Champion Elementary; Michelle Swint, English and AP Language and Composition teacher at Pine Ridge High.
 

Volusia Schools snapshot / Headline Surfer®FAST FACTS: Volusia County School District

Volusia County Schools is the public school district for Volusia County, Fla. The district serves the 16 municipalities of Daytona Beach, Daytona Beach Shores, DeBary, DeLand, Deltona, Edgewater, Holly Hill, Lake Helen, New Smyrna Beach, Oak Hill, Orange City, Ormond Beach, Pierson, Ponce Inlet, Port Orange and South Daytona. The district is the 57th largest in the US and serves 61,000 students. It is composed of 45 elementary schools, 12 middle schools and nine high schools. In addition, there are 13 alternative schools, eight charter schools, and two combination schools (K-8, 6-12).
 
Volusia County School budget / Headline Surfer®
The figures in the chart at left are calculated in millions for operating expenses in the Volusia County Schools for the 2013-]14 school year.
Sources: Wikipedia, VCSD

Did You Know?

The average Volusia County Schools teacher salary is $35,346. The Florida average is $46,583 and the national average is $56,643.
Sources: Volusia County Schools, Florida Dept. of Education, US Dept. of Education
Henry Frederick Picture

Short Bio

Henry Frederick is publisher of Headline Surfer®, the award-winning 24/7 internet news outlet covering the Daytona Beach-Sanford-Orlando metro area via HeadlineSurfer.com for a decade now. A longtime cops & courts reporter focused on breaking news & investigative reporting, Frederick is among the Sunshine State's most prolific daily news reporters, having amassed dozens of journalism-industry awards in print anddigital platforms. Frederick is enrolled at Full Sail University in Winter Garden, FL, where he's three-fourths through the online Master of Arts program in New Media Journalism. His graduation is in August.