Tuesday, July 1, 2008

A timely example of Tenure absurdity

I wrote about tenure a few weeks ago. Many of the rebuttal comments made in response to my blog attempted to point out "the fairness" of tenure, and how it's all about simple "due process".

Well, here is a real-life example.

Grand Rapids Press / MLIVE - West Ottawa Public Schools holds its first teacher tenure hearing (6/24/08)

(Thanks to the Michigan Education Report for it's coverage!)

A teacher gives students the answer to a test -- before the test is taken. The teacher -- Karl Nadolsky -- "... contends there is educational theory supporting his methods with struggling students." The distict decides to draw a line, and "accuses him of giving his students answers on a biology test to cover up his ineffectiveness in the classroom." They attempt to fire him, and the tenure laws -- and the MEA -- step in.

Hardly seems fair that the district needs to fight this. And consider the “due process” cost:

While awaiting the hearing to contest his dismissal, Nadolsky was paid his full salary of $69,712 and received his full benefits package of $16,198, according to information obtained by The Press through the Freedom of Information Act.

West Ottawa also shelled out $23,577 for a long-term substitute to cover Nadolsky's classes from Thanksgiving to the end of the academic year.

In addition, the school district spent $17,915 in legal fees through June 5 to evoke the tenure charges.


Some argue the board should've just paid a settlement. Perhaps we can look at that as a form of merit pay. Cheat children out of an education, and receive a financial reward.

Some are also likely to argue that perhaps the teacher should keep his job, and be counseled on this poor teaching practice. Sorry, but this seems to be a pretty fundamental part of teaching, and if this teacher -- with some 36 years of experience – needs to be reminded not to give advance answers to a test, then it’s time to pack it up.

Another alternative according to one board member – himself a former teacher – is “to assign an ineffective teacher to duties outside the classroom.” It's sad that school officials are willing to suspend or expel students for bad behavior and poor judgment, but those same officials hold educators to a different – and lower – standard.

Bravo to the board for pursuing what sure appears to be the right course of action.

These tenure laws need to be revised. This case also serves as another reason that we need to reform Michigan’s goofy tort laws, so that the district could recoup the costs it incurred in fighting a frivolous hearing.

I’ve pasted below the entire article in case the link doesn’t work.

---------------------------------------------------------

West Ottawa Public Schools holds its first teacher tenure hearing
Posted by Kym Reinstadler The Grand Rapids Press June 24, 2008 21:14PM

HOLLAND -- What does it take to fire a tenured teacher who doesn't want to leave?

West Ottawa Public Schools is about to find out.

The first-ever tenure hearing in the district's 50-year history begins today as veteran teacher Karl Nadolsky, 58, fights to keep his job.

The district accuses him of giving his students answers on a biology test to cover up his ineffectiveness in the classroom. Nadolsky disputes that, according to board members, and contends there is educational theory supporting his methods with struggling students. He is fighting the school board's vote in January to fire him, asking a state tenure judge to review his case.

Tenure hearings are relatively rare because a buyout often can be negotiated for less money, attorneys say. Only about 50 each year are held statewide and it takes an average of 10 1/2 months to resolve one, according to the State Office of Hearings and Rules.

"We don't want him back in the classroom," said school board President Randy Schippers, a Holland lawyer. "Now, we have to follow the process the state devised to try to make that happen."

The hearings are run like a trial, with lawyers for both sides presenting evidence today, Thursday and Friday. Nadolsky, like most teachers, requested his hearing be closed to the public.

The witness lists are said to include many current and former West Ottawa students, who will be called to testify before a state administrative law judge about what happened in their classroom.

The district's attorney, Barbara Ruga, will not disclose her strategy because of the request for privacy. Fil Iorio, Nadolsky's attorney sponsored by the Michigan Education Association, declined to comment.

The district likely will present copies of a multiple-choice test on evolution that Nadolsky gave in October to students repeating biology because they had failed the class before. The correct answers were indicated because they appeared in italic, enlarged or bold-faced type, according to an administrative report made to the school board earlier this year.

That report further alleges Nadolsky did not intervene when classmates began to harass the student who blew the whistle by telling his guidance counselor about the test.

Michigan teachers usually earn tenure within four years and then can be fired only for serious problems, such as abusing students, sexual misconduct, substance abuse or bad teaching.

Schippers said the West Ottawa board ultimately was not t willing to offer Nadolsky -- who with 36 years experience could have retired with full benefits -- a settlement to avoid a tenure hearing, although "we hear buyouts are the typical way to make a tenured teacher go away."

Only teachers who are convicted of a felony or who have court-imposed bond conditions that prohibit contact with minors, forfeit full salary and benefits during a tenure procedure, Ruga said.

While awaiting the hearing to contest his dismissal, Nadolsky was paid his full salary of $69,712 and received his full benefits package of $16,198, according to information obtained by The Press through the Freedom of Information Act.

West Ottawa also shelled out $23,577 for a long-term substitute to cover Nadolsky's classes from Thanksgiving to the end of the academic year.

In addition, the school district spent $17,915 in legal fees through June 5 to evoke the tenure charges.

"Fiscally, I'm conservative, so I can't buy this," said Bill Bloemendaal, a 17-year member of the West Ottawa board who was the lone vote against firing Nadolsky. "This is a process a school district cannot afford."

Bloemendaal, who was a West Ottawa High School teacher for 39 years before being elected to the board, said he believes it is cost-effective for the public purse to assign an ineffective teacher to duties outside the classroom.

Few types of employees are guaranteed their full salary and benefits by law while contesting dismissal, but Schippers said he understands why the law treats teachers differently.

"A teacher facing tenure charges can't just go out and get another teaching job," Schippers said. "As hard as it is to pay a teacher who's not in the classroom, you have to understand the difficult situation the teacher is in while the board's decision is being contested."

The judge will have 60 days after testimony concludes to issue a written recommendation to the five members of the governor-appointed Michigan Tenure Commission on whether there is sufficient evidence to dismiss Nadolsky.

Either party can appeal the judge's decision to the tenure commission, which reviews transcripts of the hearing and summaries submitted by attorneys to affirm or overturn the decision.

Thirty days after the time for a final appeal lapses, the state posts the resolution on the Michigan Department of Education's Web site, often the only public acknowledgment of the matter, according to the department's communications office.



5 comments:

bill milligan said...

So...for the "first time in 50 years" this school district invokes a tenure hearing and you're using this lone example as a reason why we should scrap the system?

I will agree with you and say "bravo" that this district is following tenure law and going to a hearing instead of lazily throwing cash at it to make it go away. What's to argue there? This teacher and this incident should of course be investigated. That administrators routinely take easy way out by throwing cash at an accused teacher instead of following through due process doesn't mean we should do away with tenure to make board members' lives easier, Mike.

It sounds like this board is doing the right thing by going to a hearing--so agreed: bravo for them!

Let's see how due process plays out in this situation.

I don't know this teacher (or anyone in that district, for that matter), but I got my info from the same place you got yours: a 500-word newspaper article.

That you were able to convict and hang this teacher based on this lone news article--and use it as a centerpiece argument to do away with tenure for hundreds of thousands of teachers-- makes you, well, more "observant" (or something) than me, I guess.

I'll reserve making judgments about this person until after the hearing.

Come on, Mike. You can do better this this. This is weak.

Mike Reno said...

This is an example of the problem, Bill, not "a centerpiece".

And this is not about making board member lives easier.

It's about changing a system that forces an additional $40K -- as of a month ago -- to be spent on procedural nonsense. That's $40K -- so far -- that was sucked out of the system. $40K -- so far -- that could've been spent on educating kids.

And a main point of the article was the debate over whether that $40K was well spent on substitutes and legal fees, or if it would be better spent "reassigning" the teacher, or buying them out.

My argument with the tenure system is that it forces decisions on how best to waste $40K -- or more.

bill milligan said...

Due process costs money. Always has, always will.

As a taxpayer, I'm willing to accept that. I think it's quite dangerous when you start linking "the bottom line" to the right of due process.

Just where does one stop with that line of logic? Chilling...

RightMichigan.com said...

Welcome back, Mike! Miss this sort of coverage the last month or so...

--Nick
www.RightMichigan.com

Anonymous said...

The fact that a district has stood up and used the process should be applauded.

The next time the "bad" teacher may just pull up stakes and move on without so much fight.

It would appear that the system as bad as it may appear works.

But tar and feathers is so much more fun!