Let’s say a teacher announces in April she’s retiring at the end of the school year. The teacher tells the district’s HR department, and if that position needs to be filled, the HR department tells the teachers union, which tells its members they may apply for that job.
Teacher contracts in many districts allow displaced teachers (usually, the most junior teachers from schools that have eliminated positions, teachers from shuttered schools, or those returning from leave) to choose another job from the list of openings, based on their credentials and seniority.
The process is called “priority placement,” and it ended June 4. As of today, however, at least 18 of the teachers need to be placed, and the district is obligated to find jobs for them before hiring outside the organization, according to the union president, Betty Olson-Jones.
At least, that’s how it’s supposed to work.
Principals hate this process — not because the displaced teachers are bad, but because they have no say about who will be joining their staffs. So some administrators keep their openings a secret from the district’s HR department until the displaced teachers have all found jobs and they can hire whomever they want (well, anyone who’s still looking for a teaching job in late June or July). They might, for example, ask a teacher to hold off on submitting his retirement or resignation paperwork until then.
The practice is so common there’s a term for it: “hiding vacancies.”
The Oakland teachers union is asking its members to help expose this open secret. It posted the district’s official vacancy list on its website, and is encouraging teachers to report any openings that are missing from it.
The union’s e-mail listserv has been ablaze with reported violations, including a number of Craigslist ads — though some have since been removed. Someone found a June 7 job listing, apparently placed by people with the district’s Middle School Staffing Initiative, for positions that weren’t included on the district’s vacancy list. (Although the ad was posted three days after the priority placement period ended, Olson-Jones said some of the displaced teachers — those still without jobs — are eligible for those positions.)
Another teacher wrote in about a principal who acknowledged asking departing teachers to keep their decisions hush-hush. Others wrote about instances in which teachers felt pushed into certain positions without adequate time to consider their options.
The district administration, as you might remember, proposed a compromise last month: a system that would let principals interview interested candidates from a pool of displaced teachers before the seniority preference kicked in. San Francisco Unified, where Superintendent Tony Smith last worked, does it that way.
The union leadership is opposed to such a change. So for now, the priority placement rules still stand — except for those who manage not to follow them.