The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, June 15, 2007

News

Carlisle Teachers explain "no-confidence" vote

[The following letter was submitted by Carlisle Teachers Association (CTA) President Michael Miller on behalf of the CTA Executive Board]

Dear members of the Carlisle School community:

After more than two years of difficulties in the Carlisle school system, the members of the Carlisle Teachers' Association find it necessary to provide the public with detailed insight into the specific concerns we have regarding the administration of the schools. As an association, we have up to this point in time preferred to bring our concerns directly to school administrators, and when necessary, to the school committee in a delicate and understated manner. To our dismay, we have found that too often our legitimate interests have been dismissed or ignored. These actions have led to a reduction in trust, particularly in the relationship between the superintendent and the teachers. Therefore, we feel that the proper course at this point is to describe publicly and in detail some of the actions which have led to the current climate of distrust at the schools. In the interest of brevity, many of our grievances have been left out of this statement.

Violations of contract

In the school year of 2004-2005, the professional development money set aside in the contract for teaching professionals was diverted to pay for course reimbursement for non-contracted employees and for member-ship in educational cooperatives. As a result, teachers were not given the reimbursement to which they were entitled. The former CTA president, suspecting a contract violation, demanded an accounting and only then were teachers reimbursed in order to correct the errors.

On more than one occasion (most recently with a teaching opening in the third grade) administrators have failed to post a vacant teaching position by email and printed notice as required in the contract. On the most recent occasion, a teacher who was originally let go due to budget cuts was told of an impending third grade opening, verbally promised the job by the superintendent, and then told later that day that the job would have to go to someone else on staff instead of her. The position had not at that point been posted.

Retaliation

In June 2006, the former CTA president, who had previously filed complaints about the superintendent's actions, was denied a position as curriculum coordinator even though she was the only applicant. As we detailed in a letter to the school committee last June, the superintendent sought out another candidate without informing the second candidate that there was a previous application. This was acknowleged by the superintendent in a meeting with the new CTA president on June 22, 2006, in which she labeled the former CTA president an "underminer." By this time, the second teacher had taken the job. We maintain that this action constituted retaliation, which is forbidden by Massachusetts collective bargaining laws. The teacher who was denied the position later left the school system for another job.

Task forces

Teachers who have volunteered to take leadership positions on task forces have often been frustrated by what is perceived to be a lack of respect for their efforts and ideas. For instance, in the 2005-2006 school year, a middle school task force was formed to discuss and recommend solutions to the large enrollments coming through the middle school. The task force consisted of several teachers and an administrator. When the task force presented its recommendation, it was flatly rejected by the superintendent, who told her subordinate to go back to the task force and rework the recommendations. The members of the task force felt that their ideas needed a more thorough consideration, and in the end, the superintendent came up with a staffing model on her own. The CTA certainly does not dispute the superintendent's right to make staffing decisions on her own. The issue was that the teachers felt their hard work did not get a fair hearing, and what, we wondered, was the point of ostensibly including teachers in a decision process if the outcome seemed to be determined already?

In 2006-2007, the superintendent again asked teachers to form a middle school task force. In a signal of good faith, the teachers agreed, hoping that the process would be more inclusive and respectful. This time, we were worried that budgetary realities would make any work on a task force a moot point. We were assured that our ideas would get a fair hearing. In December, one teacher was asked to come up with an eighth grade staffing model which would include five subject area teachers for the 105 or so students in the 2007-2008 eighth grade. This model was to be presented by the superintendent and the middle school principal to the school committee. This teacher discussed the ideas with his team and with task force members and then spent several hours over a weekend crafting a proposal. At the school committee meeting the following week, this idea was not even presented. The superintendent informed the school committee that the eighth grade would be taught in four sections next year. We feel that after the experiences of the past two years with this particular task force, it will be very difficult to attract teachers to serve on task forces.

In addition, one task force that was agreed to by contract, the evaluation task force, was meant to be a collaboration between administrators and teachers over the evaluation process. Both sides felt this was an important issue in the last round of negotiations. The CTA has provided members for this task force, but the superintendent has not convened the group at all this year.

Loss of trust

In June of 2006, several teachers were told that they might have to relocate their classrooms/offices due to administrative restructuring. The kindergarten and first grade special educator was told that she would have to vacate her office. Her new space was to be a storage closet, which upon examination, was filthy with years of grime, had exposed computer networking wires, and was much too cramped an area to service small groups of students with the greatest learning needs. After the CTA asked the superintendent to reconsider this plan, she relented and stated that the special educator would remain in her current office and that there would be "no more moves" that summer. In August 2006, the teacher was informed by a colleague that her office had been packed and moved without her knowledge. Boxes of her things had been placed in the Speech and Language office, and her desk was in the hallway. The teacher, who had been assured she would not have to move, was never informed by any administrator of the change in plans. Even though the superintendent later gave her a different space in which to work, the teacher resigned soon afterward and took another job.

This incident was disheartening to many people. The administrators clearly needed office space, but the teacher's trust was violated, and we lost her. We don't believe that the superintendent learned from this incident. Lack of communication and courtesy continued in this past school year, most notably over the staffing cuts.

Most people in Carlisle are aware that this year's budget process was difficult for teachers, administrators, and parents. None of us looked forward to the position cuts that had to occur. Teachers completely understand the difficulty the administrators face in deciding which positions to maintain and which ones to discontinue. Indeed, the CTA would not contest the superintendent's right to make any choices as long as they are made in a manner which complies with our contract. However, we believe that the superintendent has made several missteps which have severely damaged her relationship with the teaching staff.

After presenting a staffing model to the teachers in January, the superintendent presented a different staffing model the next day to the school committee. The second grade teachers, who were initially informed that all second grade positions would be preserved, learned from our representative at that meeting that a second grade position would be cut. Again, the CTA does not dispute the choice of one position over another. But by showing blatant disregard for the feelings of the teachers involved, the superintendent damaged her relationship not only with the teachers directly involved, but with all teachers.

In a related development, one of the second grade teachers stated both verbally and in an e-mail to the superintendent that although he would prefer to stay in his current position, he would be willing to move to a different grade level if it would prevent other teachers from having to be moved from their current grade levels. This teacher had his words misconstrued on two separate occasions — once, in the incident noted above when a teacher was verbally promised a job and then had the promise rescinded; and second, when a third grade teacher was told she would have to move to a different position, and would she please decide which position she would prefer to take? (thus putting the third grade teacher in the position of deciding whom she would displace). On each of these occasions, the second grade teacher's wishes were misrepresented as if he had asked to move to a third grade position. Nearly the entire elementary school staff was affected by the bad feelings that these miscommunications caused. Many teachers felt insecure in their positions, and rumors about who was moving to which spot and who was being cut were rampant. This turmoil could have been avoided had administration taken the time to inform each teacher in advance of the possibilities for next year. For instance, if a fourth grade teacher had been told in advance that it was possible she might move to a kindergarten position, she would have been better prepared for the uncertainty. Assuming these administrative mistakes were not done with malicious intent, we still have a crisis of trust in the school. It is very difficult to maintain trust in a leader when procedures are ignored, assurances are abandoned, teachers' words are falsely represented, and the feelings of the staff are disregarded.

Despite the hiring of an expensive consultant, the relationship between the superintendent and the teachers has suffered further damage in the past 10 months, and teachers do not feel they can trust the superintendent's word. We have all learned from the reporting of the Carlisle Mosquito that at the same time the consultant was supposed to be helping the teachers and superintendent come together, he was also running a superintendency search in another town in which our current superintendent was a candidate. It appears clear to us that the consultant had a conflict of interest, but we were not informed of this conflict until after the fact.

In any event, the CTA has shown that it is willing to try to talk with the superintendent, with a consultant, or with the school committee in order to improve communication and rapport between administrators and the teaching staff. We have sent letters to document our concerns. Last fall, we shared privately with the superintendent and the school committee a survey we took among the staff indicating the vast majority of the CTA members' feeling that there were major concerns with the superintendent's communication and leadership. We have adopted a deliberately understated approach to this problem, feeling that with some time and some work, a better understanding would develop between the superintendent and the teachers. Yet as another spring passes, we have experienced the departure of valuable veteran members of our staff, and we fear that more departures will follow. All these teachers' resignations cannot be explained away with stories about shorter commutes or new opportunities. A significant number of teachers are leaving simply because they do not wish to work here anymore.

Here is a list of the positions that administrators and professional status teachers have left over the past two years. It does not include several more who have been here for a year or two, and then have moved on.

2006

K-1 special educator

Elementary school psychologist

8th grade special educator

5th grade special educator

5th grade teacher

Director of Student Support Services

Principal

School Business Manager

2007

3rd grade teacher

4th grade special educator

4th grade teacher

Middle school special educator

We have heard some people in the Carlisle community and some school committee members explain that the difficulty in the schools arises from resistance to change. Teachers who work here every day reject that thesis. None of the items above is related to change. There is, however, an easily discernible theme. The trust and respect that any organization must foster has eroded significantly in the Carlisle Public Schools. The Carlisle Teachers' Association, with this statement, registers a vote of "no confidence"

in the Superintendent of Schools, Marie Doyle.

Adopted by a vote of 54-3 with 5 abstentions.


2007 The Carlisle Mosquito