3.08.2011

Revisiting an Old Saw: The Boondoggle of Educational Bureaucracies

It is that time of the year again, yes, it is pink slip mailing time and the angst is a'flowing fast and wild these days. For those that may not know, I work in large educational bureaucracy in northern California. I've been laid off every year I've been here and then re-hired, in some fashion or another, later on each year.

The system is, in a word, broken. In more words, it is based off nothing beyond seniority. This makes sense since the people who wrote the CBA's were the most senior ones and wanted the most security. But the system does a massive disservice to our customers who just happen to be children.


How does this system currently operate? It washes out new teachers, you know, the ones with fresh degrees, lots of energy and a desire to make their students the absolute best they can be? It washes these teachers out because they are the first to get pink slipped when the layoffs come. Who's left? The old crusty teachers who are working beyond their expiration date in order to secure the maximum pension they can get.

By expiration date, I mean when they pass from being a good teacher engaged in the process, wanting to develop young minds and mold their futures to being a checked out, disengaged robot going through the motions of teaching. There is no give a damn, there is only the slow crossing off of required days to reach that maximum pension.

I'm not faulting teachers for going after the most they can get in a pension, I'm faulting a system that places more value on them than on new teachers. I'm faulting a system that has no metric aside from length of time served. There is no merit based consideration. There is no easy to wash out a crappy teacher once they've made it through the first couple of years. There is no system whereby a teacher who's checked out can be removed from the classroom.

And the kids are the one's that get screwed by the bad system. The kids are the ones being stuffed into bigger classrooms, the kids are the ones being taught by teachers who stopped giving a damn.

The system is severely broken and in desperate need of a complete overhaul.

Merit and performance and something I call site inertia should be considered alongside seniority. What is site inertia? It refers to time spent by a staff member at a given site. It is sort of a localized seniority and would help stabilize the bumping that takes place now. Whenever a position is closed or eliminated, the person in that position, presuming they have some seniority, can knock someone else out of their position. That person can then use their seniority to knock someone else out. And so on and so on.

What does this system do? It fosters bitterness towards co-workers, it disrupts school sites because of the non-stop staff changes, it creates and re-creates acclimatization periods as staff move, settle in, move again and have to settle in again and again. It is, in short, an incredibly toxic system that doesn't work and, in the end, does more of a disservice to our customers, the kids.

Update: I had a staff meeting the other morning where the district Chief Business Officer delivered some depressing news with a thin silver lining. I am likely to get pink slipped again but just as likely to get recalled. The roller coaster continues unabated.

And there is a growing sense of dread for when the economy does bounce back fully and there are other jobs available. I get the sense that plenty of people, usually the more qualified go-getter types we would want to retain, will jump back into the private sector for more pay, less stupidity, merit bonuses and to get away from the system that traps all in its web of bureaucracy. I don't mind admitting that I'm likely to be one of those that will jump if a better opportunity arises. I have to, I've got a family to feed, a mortgage to pay, bills to fend off and a strong desire for a better balance of work and life.
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