Spring in the Tucson Unified School District looks to be different this year — the new superintendent has canceled the damaging tradition of telling scores of teachers, librarians and school counselors that they don’t have a job for the next school year.
It’s about time. The cycle harmed TUSD employees, parents and ultimately kids. It wasted money and, understandably, created hard feelings in the community and among its workforce.
Here’s how it worked: Each spring the TUSD Governing Board members would vote to give layoff notices, while saying they wished they didn’t have to do it, but they didn’t have a choice. Certified employees are on annual contracts, and the district is legally required to notify them if it’s not certain they will have a contract for the following school year.
But the timing always worked out that the layoff notices had to go out before district officials knew with greater certainty how many employees it would need for the next year.
So, each year, district administrators and Governing Board members would talk about how much they valued TUSD teachers, counselors and librarians — before issuing the layoff notices. The irony wasn’t lost on anyone, and it hurt TUSD’s credibility.
Over the summer, many employees would apply for and eventually find a job at a TUSD school, but some would leave for other districts before TUSD knew what openings it had to fill.
And yet, never fail, the school year would open in August with some classrooms staffed by substitute teachers, many for weeks or months until a permanent teacher could be hired.
Superintendent H.T. Sanchez’s plan is to match employees with openings and use a district transfer process — not a perfect system, as a teacher could be moved to an unwanted school or position, but it’s better than the free-for-all. With this system, at least, an employee will know what is offered, and can decide whether to pursue another job instead of having no job prospect in hand at all.
Those who aren’t transferred will be placed in the long-term substitute pool, while receiving their existing salaries and benefits. This group will include about 50 people, and we agree with Sanchez that it makes more sense to retain a cadre of known, qualified, certified employees instead of relying on a revolving door of substitutes. Those workers would also be on hand when permanent openings come up.
It never made sense that TUSD couldn’t come up with a better system than to layoff hundreds of people, hire some back, lose others and struggle to fill vacancies each year. Sanchez’s plan is a welcome and needed change.