Arizona Education Association

Summer 2021

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LOCAL PERSPECTIVE SUMMER 2021 | ADVOCATE 13 A er school on the aernoon of Friday, March 26, 152 teachers at Gilbert Public Schools (GPS) were called in to meet with their principals in an empty classroom at schools across the District. e principals at each site read a short, prepared statement indicating that the position of each teacher present would be eliminated for next year as a part of a reduction in force (RIF) due to declining enrollment and that the RIF decisions were based on District needs, not on campus needs. e principals did not make any other comments or take any questions aerward and left im ediately aer reading the statement. e teachers were left in hock. ey were unaware that the District planned to execute a RIF, not to mention a RIF on such a scale. Many wondered how they could be subject to a RIF considering their strong performance, education and training, and accomplishments, among other things. e RIF was even more shocking in view of the availability of new and expanded federal funding (specifi ally, ESSER III funds under the American Rescue Plan Act, which President Biden signed on March 11) that could be used to avoid layoffs nd even expand staffing. Many teachers found the short, prepared statement and the manner of delivery to be cold, impersonal, and unfeeling. A few days later, aer hearing public comments from educators and community members concerned about the RIF, the GPS Governing Board approved the RIF as a part of a consent agenda. Prior to the vote, a District administrator gave a presentation on the RIF process and timeline. As a part of the presentation, the District revealed publicly for the fi st time the RIF rubric that was used to determine who would be recommended for the RIF. e RIF rubric had been developed by administrators in the weeks preceding the RIF announcement and contained a variety of criteria that were used in making such recommendations. For each criterion, a teacher could be rated "ineffective" (worth zero points), "effective" (worth two points), or "highly effective" (worth three points). Site administrators completed the rubrics for all certifi d teachers at each site based on the criteria and descriptors included in the rubric. e District administration then reviewed the completed rubrics and tallied the points for each teacher. Using this data, the District determined the cutoff cores for elementary and secondary purposes. e District recommended that those below the cutoff cores would be subject to RIF while those at or above the cutoff ould be retained. From the perspective of a teacher, the RIF criteria were highly subjective. Also, the criteria tended to penalize anyone who had been in any way critical of the district in any setting. Moreover, the criteria attempted to assess performance, but did so in a manner separate from, and inconsistent with, the evaluation process and the District's approved instrument. As a result, teachers who had been classifi d as "highly effective" overall and in specific erformance areas in their most recent evaluations could fi d themselves receiving low scores for RIF criteria purporting to gauge performance in the same areas. Other issues existed as well. How AEA and the Local Responded AEA and the Gilbert Education Association (GEA) worked together in responding to the RIF. ey took the following steps, among others: A District Downsizing e Gilbert Reduction in Force, How AEA and the Local Responded, and the Result By AEA General Counsel Jarrett Haskovec AEA immediately assembled a team of staff embers from the Field and Legal and Advocacy teams to work with GEA and affected members and to take the lead on coordinating and advancing the advocacy effort. AEA also brought in outside counsel to provide additional support and representation at a later stage. Aer consulting with GEA, AEA researched, draed, and submitted two large public records requests seeking extensive information from the District related to the RIF and reviewed documents received in response. AEA staff nalyzed GPS's fi ances, identifi d other potential available funding, and researched and estimated how much ESSER III money GPS was to receive under the American Rescue Plan Act. GEA leaders contacted members impacted by the RIF in order to determine if they were interested in pursuing a grievance related to the RIF and to attend some meetings with AEA staff nd GEA leaders related to the RIF. AEA counsel, AEA staff embers, and GEA leaders held meetings and spoke multiple times – both as a group and individually – with members affected by the RIF to gather information, explain the legal and policy issues and arguments, GEA President Amber Franco speaking at board meeting.

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