Monday, July 25, 2011

Foolish law harms some, helps others in Dorchester 2

This article from the Summerville Journal Scene tells the story, but the root of the problem is asinine. Bottom line: If you've never taught in Dorchester District 2 and you want to teach there, now's the time to apply.

Dorchester District 2 is facing the challenge of finding and hiring up to 25 high school teachers by the time school starts in mid August.

The district learned it would receive an additional $1.3 million for its operating budget after the State Legislature and Dorchester County Council passed their final budgets well into June.

The trouble is that state law requires existing certified employees to renew their annual contract by May 15 if they want to remain employed in the same district, school officials said.

Only teachers new to DD2 can be hired at this point.

See the asinine part? Teachers who believed they wouldn't have a job in August obviously didn't renew their contracts. (What contracts? Who are we kidding? It's a letter of intent, not a real contract.) Now, thanks to a foolish state law that protects school districts at the expense of giving individual educators their freedom, and thanks to lawmakers who couldn't get the job done in a reasonable time, those who didn't renew letters of intent for imaginary jobs are now shut out of employment.

I hope, oh, I hope they qualify for unemployment benefits and are being counted in the 10.5 percent unemployment that the Haley administration has racked up in seven short months.

The additional funding allows the district to hire 25 much-needed high school teachers if high quality candidates are available, Raynor said. The timing presents a challenge because so many teachers have already signed contracts, she said.

“If we don’t get teachers, we need to put money aside for the year after that,” Superintendent Joe Pye said. “It is now the middle of July. School starts in a month. There is a shortage of high school math and science teachers.

“We’re lucky if we can find one . . . let alone four or five English and social studies. We really need 10 of each. We’re only going to do half of those now.”

Pye said he hopes to have all 25 teachers hired by the end of the school year, but says 15 is a more realistic number. For now, Pye can hire recently certified teachers or teachers moving into the community.

Come on, recent college graduates. Dorchester's a pretty spot, and if you don't claim those jobs, Teach for America will see the place as a prime expansion opportunity.

Want to hear the worst part of this self-inflicted debacle?

To cope with severe federal and state funding cuts two years ago, the DD2 district office decided to reduce 60 high school teaching positions through attrition to save $2.8 million.

“That meant they had to teach 25 to 30 more children,” Pye said.

Teachers started teaching 180 students a day instead of 150 and were given six classes a day instead of five.

“We’re trying to bring back some of the things we cut,” Pye said.

The district added 13 teachers in its original budget, but needs another 47 before schedules can be changed to five classes per day, according to Pye.

Even if 25 teachers were miraculously hired before Aug. 15, another 23 would still be needed to restore cuts from two years ago.

“I am committed to putting the teachers there and I’m not going to stop until I get the 45 there. We just don’t have the teachers out there applying. We have an opening in math we’ve been trying to fill for one month and we finally got it filled. Now I’m going to need six or eight more math teachers for all the high schools.”

What the district can do is begin to reduce class size, Pye said.

“At the end of the day teachers will be teaching less students than they once did. Then we’ll drop teacher caseload average of 180 down to 150.”

Unnecessary budget cuts led to unnecessarily high class sizes. Now unnecessary delays in passing a budget have led to unnecessary delays in reducing those class sizes again.

Superintendent Joe Pye got this part dead right:

“It does effect our student achievement and graduation rate. It has a direct correlation. That’s why it’s so hard to cut stuff. You may never see it again. We have to bring this back.

“This has put quite a threat on students and teachers and everybody with these large numbers. It’s made it very impersonal. We’ve got to treat children as if they’re our own. Nobody wants their child to be one of 180.”

I'll start the campaign right here and now: Joe Pye for State House, Joe Pye for State Senate, Joe Pye for State Superintendent or -- best of all -- Joe Pye for Governor. A man with such common sense has no business withholding himself from a position of leadership.

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