Paying teachers for nothing

April 22, 1994

For a system that perpetually complains about not having enough resources, Anne Arundel County schools have been awfully generous handing out money to teachers for doing nothing. Taxpayers have shelled out $239,292 over the past year to pay teachers who are sitting at home while administrators pursue investigations of wrongdoing, plus $105,000 for substitutes to replace them. It's a waste of money attributable directly to the school system, which takes its sweet time resolving these cases.

Even high-profile cases sit around for ages. Northeast High teacher Laurie Cook was acquitted of child sexual abuse Dec. 10, more than four months ago. Not only does she remain home while the system investigates her, but no hearing date has been set and she has yet to be informed of what she is accused of doing. Unpublicized cases can stagnate even longer. In one case, a "Teacher No. 8" has been suspended for nearly two years. Taxpayers have paid him $78,117 to stay home and $29,700 for his substitutes.

It's unfair to lay the blame on the county teachers' union, whose contract requires teachers who appeal suspensions to be paid. This provision is unduly expensive only because the school handles these cases ineptly. There is nothing in the contract that prevents officials from giving suspended teachers something productive to do. Transfer them to the central office, let them plant trees, but make them do something.

The most important change that needs to be made involves speeding up the appeals process itself. Delays in cases involving criminal charges, where school investigations must wait until police work or a trial are completed, are unavoidable. But the time it takes to schedule appeals hearings, heard either by five board members or a hearing officer, and to render decisions must be reduced. It is absurd that, four months after acquittal, Ms. Cook does not have a hearing date. It is equally absurd that, one year after Teacher No. 8's case was heard, no recommendation has been forthcoming.

The excuse that board members and hearing officers have a tough time fitting appeals into their busy schedules is weak. The number of cases is not that great. The system has simply been too lax to come up with a method for resolving them. That's the real reason Anne Arundel taxpayers have been paying suspended teachers money for nothing.

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