Haines ordered to reformulate teacher layoff plan

Posted: Sunday, September 07, 2003

ANCHORAGE (AP) A Superior Court judge has ordered the Haines School Board to rework a teacher layoff plan that resulted in three tenured teachers losing their jobs.

Juneau Superior Court Judge Larry Weeks did not order teachers reinstated immediately. But in a lawsuit brought by NEA-Alaska, the state teachers union, Weeks said the procedure in which the teachers lost their jobs was flawed.

NEA-Alaska President Rich Kronberg called the decision a big win.

''Judge Weeks' ruling validates what we've been saying all along Superintendent (Woody) Wilson broke the law with his layoff plan and he also applied the plan in a highly subjective manner,'' Kronberg said.

Wilson questioned how the union could conclude the ruling was a victory. He said the school board would review its plan and then decide the employment fate of the teachers.

The district has not received a transcript of Weeks' oral opinion, and the judge has not yet issued a written opinion.

NEA-Alaska maintained that tenured teachers can be laid off because of poor performance or a decline in student enrollment but not an anticipated drop in enrollment. Kronberg contends that losing the Haines case would set a dangerous precedent because districts could dump teachers based on enrollment projections.

In his oral opinion Aug. 30, Weeks said neither teachers nor the public had a meaningful opportunity to comment on the Haines layoff plan.

A hearing in May restricted appeal procedures to whether there was proper cause for the layoffs, whether the layoffs were consistent with the adopted plan and whether tenured teachers could be replaced by non-tenured teachers.

Those parameters did not allow teachers to deal with the content of the plan in any meaningful way, Weeks said.

The judge said evidence did not support that the criteria for layoffs were evenly applied.

Kronberg said the district made references in one layoff to qualifications required by the No Child Left Behind Act, even though experienced teachers have until the 2005-2006 school year to become highly qualified.

''That clearly is not permissible,'' he said.

Wilson said the Haines school population has declined an average of 31 students per year since 1998-99.

The district has more teachers than it can afford, Wilson said.

It had five social studies teachers and two positions, he said. Two non-tenured teachers kept their jobs because they teach music and physical education, he said.

NEA-Alaska seemed to argue that all non-tenured teachers should be let go before any tenured teachers are laid off, Wilson said.

''How do you teach French horn to a fifth grader?'' he asked, referring to teachers without music credentials.

''That position makes no sense at all,'' Wilson said.

Weeks ordered the Haines School Board to come up with a new plan.

He said the district must first hire tenured teachers rather than non-tenured teachers even for specialty positions such as music and physical education.

He said the layoff plan must address the specific conditions of the Haines district.

''There has to be necessity as well as reduction in the students or decline in basic funding before there can be a RIF (reduction in force),'' he said.

The three tenured teachers who contested losing their jobs were high school teacher Jeanne Menaker, librarian Rhonda Stuart and elementary teacher Barbara Mark, who has taken a job in Idaho. Elementary teacher Jeanne Kitayama was laid off but did not contest the decision.

Kronberg said he was disappointed that the district has not immediately put Menaker and Stuart back to work, especially since the district claims to be short of money. He said it's clear the tenured teachers were improperly laid off.

''I don't know why they're continuing to spend it on lawyers rather than teachers,'' he said.

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