Sunday, August 22, 2010

The Cost of Removing A Tenured Teacher

$400,000. Four years and $400,000 later, the city of Paterson finally fired a tenured special education teacher who was accused of physically abusing students.
Even after an investigation by the state Division of Youth and Family Services concluded in 2005 that he had physically abused children, the tenure case dragged on for another 3 1/2 years. In the end, an administrative law judge believed staff members and students at elementary School 4 who said they saw Robinson hit "A. T.," routinely beat "J. T.," punch a girl called "V. H." and shove "N. H." against a blackboard until he cried.

Robinson, now on unemployment at 53, denies all these allegations and says he was a victim of colleagues with a vendetta. He said some of his students, ages 10 to 14, routinely got angry and threw chairs, and his critics misinterpreted his efforts to break up fights. He said he was gifted at dealing with the cognitively impaired and emotionally disturbed. "I was so good that whenever they had bad kids in the district, they sent them to me," he said in an interview in early August.

Robinson had been working in Paterson schools for 18 years when a staffer came forward in February 2004 to say that she had seen him punch J. T. in the chest for failing to do his homework, according to the administrative law judge's decision. Robinson was suspended pending an investigation. Carol Smeltzer, an attorney for the school district, said that after an investigation began, witnesses came forward to describe other incidents in several previous years. She said witnesses were afraid to speak out before, because "teachers were terrified of this man."

The district filed tenure charges in June. Robinson's pay was suspended once for 120 days, as is standard, and then again for witness tampering. Smeltzer said the law required the district to pay Robinson through the rest of the case; his wages hit $283,864. "There's no incentive to resign when as long as you plod along you're making all this money for staying at home," Smeltzer said.

Robinson said he was "stressing" during that time, but kept busy painting and cutting the grass.

Smeltzer said the case dragged on because it had many separate allegations, the judge was too busy to schedule consecutive hearing dates and there was no mandated deadline for finishing. Meanwhile, the district's legal bills topped $123,863, she said.

Robinson's union, the Paterson Education Association, paid for his defense. Its president, Peter Tirri, said, "I wondered if the district's case was weak and maybe that's why it took so long."
No, the problem is that districts have little power to fire teachers accused of criminality. Indeed, the ALJ found that the teacher hit students. That was insufficient to fire the teacher, and the union has no interest in streamlining the process since they can continue receiving paycheck after paycheck for doing no work.

It's a system that is broken not just in New Jersey, but around the nation. New York City recently took steps to streamline the rubber room process (where teachers were allowed to collect paychecks by sitting around in a Department office building).

It's a system that absolutely needs fixing since it is costing everyone. Students are harmed because of the money going to pay teachers on the payroll who aren't allowed in classrooms. Teachers who are deserving are incapable of being paid better because they're sharing their payroll with teachers who are taking up space (and sometimes not even teaching).

No comments: