More than 200 teachers protested changes to the evaluation process and stagnated salaries at the Shelby County Schools board meeting Tuesday.
Keith Williams, the president of the Memphis-Shelby County Education Association, has spent the last several weeks rallying teachers to protest what they say are unfair policies and budget cuts that have hurt morale for the district’s 8,000 teachers.
Over the summer, the advocacy organization filed several lawsuits to save the jobs of hundreds of laid off and excessed tenured teachers. Earlier this month, they held a press conference in which several of those teachers told their emotional stories – one teacher feared losing her home while another had a friend help her with money for gas.
On Tuesday, teachers packed the board room, some stood against the walls and others spilled out into the hallway to attend the meeting. Sixteen people, mostly educators, addressed the board during public comment.
Their complaints came shortly after district officials lauded schools across the county for dramatic gains in state tests scores they partially attributed to the teachers’ hard work in the classrooms.
Teachers holding signs told board members Tuesday they were concerned about the fairness of the district’s updated evaluation system, TEM (Teacher Effectiveness Measure) 4; that some tenured teachers whose positions were cut last spring were still waiting to be hired by the district and that the performance bonuses the district doled out last year were not a substitute for an anticipated salary increase.
Teachers currently working in the district will receive a bonus based on their overall evaluation score from 2013-14 starting at $250 for Level I and Level II teachers, $650 for Level III, $800 for Level IV and $1,250 for Level V. Teachers have said they prefer an annual salary increase that would impact their lifetime earnings; a one-time bonus, they said, does not. Retired educators will not receive the bonus, which is another issue the association believes is unfair.
Educators grumbled in disagreement Tuesday night as Superintendent Dorsey Hopson II argued that the bonuses gave teachers more income than if they were given incremental raises.
In addition to disagreement over the bonus pay plan, teachers complained that the newly adjusted evaluations, which will go into effect this year, made it impossible to receive the highest score.
Williams said there are now 69 objectives that a teacher must demonstrate during an observation period.
“No observer could document that many objectives that would allow a teacher a teacher to earn a 5,” he said. “We want the board to remove the requirement for teachers to meet ‘all’ objectives.”
Margaret Box, a kindergarten teacher who had been on a team that drafted the evaluation plan in 2011 said that the updated evaluation had not been created with teachers’ assistance and made it very difficult to earn a top score.
“You said TEM 4 is a leap forward,” said Box. “It’s a step forward to a checklist, and to fewer level 5 teachers. I wanted to plant the seed that we can fix this.”
Hopson told the crowd that some of teachers’ complaints apply to only a small number of staff. “There’s a lot of discussion of evaluations being unfair. But as far as the performance-based bonuses, when we do the calculation, 80 percent of teachers are level 4 and 5, and 95 percent are 3, 4, and 5.” Teachers with higher evaluation scores received larger bonuses last school year.
“In many cases, bonuses are larger than step increases would have been,” Hopson said. Several teachers audibly disagreed.
But he said that other concerns, including the high cost of health insurance and lack of salary increases, would be taken up by the board and district later this year.
Board member Teresa Jones wasn’t worried that the decisions would impact the district’s ability to keep or attract teachers.
“I value them and the work they do,” said Jones, adding that she’s heard teachers’ complaints about the revised evaluation system multiple times. “They don’t like it, they’ve said it’s a moving target in terms of what’s expected. I would’ve felt more comfortable if we’d had a test run with the evaluation model, but we didn’t.”
Earlier in the meeting close to 50 principals in the district were honored at a short ceremony for schools that had earned earned their way on to the state’s “Reward” list, for high-achieving or fast-improving schools; or for earning their way off of the list of lowest-scoring schools. The district has set a goal of improving academics and graduation rate districtwide.
“I wish we could have had every teacher from the Reward Schools here, but that wasn’t feasible…but I always try to recognize and thank our great teachers for the tremendous results we received this year and over the years,” Hopson said.
Hopson said he will meet with teachers on Sept. 4.