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New Memphis City Schools teachers finding seniority:
Many displaced educators being put on surplus list
By Jane Roberts, The Commercial Appeal, Friday, July 29, 2011
The teachers union in the city schools has agreed to let new hires, many of them transplants to Memphis with Teach for America, displace senior teachers.
But union officials are not happy about it.
Keith Williams, president of the Memphis Education Association, says the idea that outsiders are better suited to teach in Memphis City Schools "shows a disdain for the intellect of this community."
"This district had 15,000 applicants that were not even considered," he said. "This makes it impossible for a person to teach in Memphis City Schools unless they come through Teach for America."
Starting this week, principals filling last-minute openings are seeing only two kinds of applicants: experienced teachers displaced from city school classrooms or new teachers coming through TFA or the city schools' own alternative licensure program, Memphis Teaching Fellows.
As of July 15, the district had 101 teacher vacancies and 133 candidates between TFA and its own residency program, plus 210 "surplus" or displaced teachers.
By Thursday, the district said all 100 Teach for America candidates would be placed and ready to report to work Monday.
The strategy is part of a plan to get "high potential" teachers in the classroom.
"Past practice would dictate that the most senior of these teachers would be placed in remaining vacancies," Deputy Supt. Irving Hamer wrote in a memo dated July18. "However, in this climate of cuts, the district has boldly decided to approach this challenge as an opportunity to provide a much-needed academic lift to the kids in its schools."
The district is able to circumvent seniority rights under a clause in the teacher contract that says curriculum needs allow it to hire outside the surplus pool.
It was caught flat-footed this year after it spent $2.5 million getting high-quality teachers from around the nation interested in Memphis but could hire few of them because it had displaced hundreds of its own and owed those teachers first choice.
While Hamer notes that 400 of 570 teachers from the surplus pool have since found jobs in the system, the aim is to reduce "the dance of the lemons," Supt. Kriner Cash's description of the process of moving poor teachers from school to school because they are protected by union seniority rules.
Of the 210 teachers on the surplus list in mid-July, at least 25 percent were among the district's poorest teachers, based on an analysis the district ran on their students' achievement.
Williams is glad to have union jobs reinstated but is furious that the district puts such a premium on outside talent.
"It's a complete disregard for the intellect of this community. You are completely disregarding those candidates this district has produced, that local universities have produced. None of those people are able to secure these jobs."
Under the four-year contract Teach For America signed in 2009, MCS is obligated to hire a total of 350 TFA corpsmen through 2012-13.
This year, it also must place an additional 75 TFA members whose salaries are being paid for from the state's Race to the Top fund.
The newest openings are at Mitchell High and Coleman and Brookemeade elementaries, where district officials this week moved 15 teachers to the surplus list. At Fairley High, eight will be replaced.
"The process is not over," Hamer said. "There will still be some more teachers put on the surplus list."
-- Jane Roberts: (901) 529-2512