Many of the teachers had been adrift in the system for some time. Thirty-five lost their teaching assignments two years ago when the district replaced the entire faculties at seven failing high schools, a practice known as reconstitution. The rest had seen their posts eliminated because of changing personnel needs.
In the past, laid-off teachers could collect their regular salaries for 20 months as they looked for another job in the system. But a new district policy cut this grace period in half and requires the teachers to work as substitutes. After the grace period, teachers are "honorably terminated" if they don't find a new position.
In their lawsuit, the teachers charge that the district violated their rights to due process. The plaintiffs had asked for a restraining order to block the dismissals, but the judge overseeing the case denied the request.
Leaders of the Chicago Teachers Union, which has joined the teachers as a plaintiff in the case, maintain that the district should have done more to help the 138 teachers find new positions. They contend that the teachers from reconstituted schools felt tainted as they looked for new jobs.
Jackie Gallagher, a spokeswoman for the CTU, an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers, suggests the administrators in Chicago wanted to get rid of the teachers more than help them. As district officials passed out the dismissal notices, Gallagher says, city schools chief Paul Vallas was talking publicly about a teacher shortage. "It looks suspiciously like they're willing to have substitutes teach our children because they are in effect cheaper than experienced teachers," Gallagher says.
But administrators for the 430,000-student district say they bent over backward for the employees. The 10-month grace period was extended three times, they say, and during that time, the educators had one day off a week, with pay, to look for jobs.
Cozette Buckney, the system's chief education officer, points out that about 150 teachers from reconstituted schools found new jobs in the 27,000-teacher system. "We don't take this lightly," Buckney says, "but we're talking about 138 teachers with an average salary of $50,000--money that could go into classrooms. We simply cannot afford to hold on to teachers when no one has picked them."
Despite the union's legal action against the district, CTU officials say relations with the current administration remain good. A smooth negotiating process last fall ended with a new teachers' contract.
"We don't mean this as a criticism of the people, of Paul Vallas or the board members or the mayor," Gallagher says. "It is of the whole process that was established. It's not like we're suddenly enemies."
Vol. 10, Issue 6, Page 12