Teachers to lose tenure, raises Union denounces plan to rid city schools of underperformers

August 05, 1998|By Liz Bowie and Stephen Henderson | Liz Bowie and Stephen Henderson,SUN STAFF

More than 100 Baltimore teachers will be denied pay increases and stripped of their tenure as the new school leadership tries to put an end to "the dance of the lemons" -- the endless shuffling of staff who perform poorly from one school house to another.

Eleven principals also have been demoted or forced out, and area superintendents are competing for their jobs with a bevy of outside applicants.

The housecleaning was started under former public schools chief Robert Schiller, who once referred to the schools as a "jobs program" for the city. But the new chief, Robert Booker, is carrying out the plan with equal resolve.

In taking the highly unusual step of placing teachers on probation, Booker is striking at the heart of what is seen by many as the central problem of the schools -- a culture in which school employees are unaccountable and resistant to change.

"It is a sign that the old ways of doing business are not going to be tolerated and that teachers, principals and administrators who are not doing their job will be packed up and shipped out," said Del. Howard P. Rawlings, a Baltimore Democrat and one of the legislative architects of the 1997 school reform law.

Booker said yesterday that he is writing letters to 103 teachers and low-level managers who received poor evaluations to tell them he will be withholding their automatic yearly pay increase. In addition, he will have their teaching certifications downgraded to second-class status, removing their tenure.

The actions are the first steps to getting rid of teachers who principals say have not shown up for work, fail to control their classrooms and often do not carry out lesson plans.

Booker said he was advised by school system lawyers that the action is legal under the contract.

But the Baltimore Teachers Union reacted with anger and

threats, saying that it would file grievances on behalf of teachers placed on probation.

"I was angry because here we are trying very hard to make a difference and again Baltimore singled us out to make us second class," said Marietta English, president of the 6,500-strong BTU. She questioned whether Booker has the power to reduce the certification status of those teachers, an action she said she could not recall happening in her 28 years in the system.

Principals demoted

In addition to placing teachers on probation, the administration is changing principals -- a move that is key because they have the power to determine how money is spent and what programs are used at individual schools. Ten principals have been demoted to assistant principals and one principal decided to retire rather than take a demotion, Booker said.

But many more than 11 schools have seen or will see a change in leadership. More than 10 other principals have been moved around in the system or retired. And Booker said he must fill five more principal positions.

According to an internal document obtained by The Sun, about 43 of the system's 180 principals have been placed on improvement plans, suggesting that they are not living up to expectations.

School leaders also have taken aim at other administrators. Since the school board decided to divide the system's six districts into nine, Schiller and Booker have hired three assistant area superintendents -- including Jeffery Grotsky, the former Harford County school superintendent, and Barry Williams, the former principal at Randallstown High School. Williams, who started work this week, gained a reputation for turning around Randallstown, Booker said.

A third new area superintendent is the well-regarded former principal at Western High School, Ann Carusi.

Booker said he also is considering whether to retain the other administrators. "I am in the process of interviewing candidates from the outside to determine whether I will make any changes," he said.

Taken together, the changes are "a step in the direction of assuring accountability," said Booker. "In the new management of the school system we are expected to perform, starting with the CEO."

While teachers have been given poor job evaluations in the past, consequences were rare. Principals got rid of teachers who performed poorly by having them transferred to other schools, placing the problem in other administrators' laps. That has become known in the system as "the dance of the lemons."

In depositions taken as part of the city's 1996 school funding VTC lawsuit, several principals described the difficult process of getting rid of teachers. Linda Beechener, principal at Diggs Johnson Middle School, described one teacher as consistently absent from school and having difficulty teaching.

"On one particular occasion, [she] was screaming so loud at the children that she could be heard on a floor below on the opposite end of the building," Beechener testified. "And we were concerned that she might be having an emotional breakdown."

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