RCAPS board rejects teachers' stance on 'suspect' evaluations

Superintendent Steven Westhoff
Superintendent Steven Westhoff

REED CITY – A grievance filed by the Reed City Education Association questioning teacher evaluation procedures was rejected by the Board of Education at Monday’s meeting.

Following the layoff of two teachers at each building in order to cut expenses and balance Reed City Area Public School’s 2012-13 budget, the teachers union critiqued the evaluation procedure at the elementary level, calling it “suspect.” The grievance asked that all elementary teacher evaluations from this year include a note describing the procedure’s flaws.

Under new state law, this was the first year staff reductions were decided primarily by performance, as recorded in evaluations, rather than seniority, which was the main factor in the past.

After reviewing the district’s evaluation policy, the board unanimously agreed there was nothing wrong with how the teacher evaluations were completed nor the decisions made regarding which teachers were laid off.

“Based on our understanding of state law at this time, the evaluations were done in accordance with it,” said Dan Boyer, board president.

Superintendent Steve Westhoff defended the evaluations given by G.T. Norman Elementary School principal Tonya Harrison and the other building principals.

“We demonstrated that: 1. The law says we have the leeway to determine the exact process; 2. Our policy shows that we did exactly what our policy says and were within the guidelines of our policy; 3. It was fair. It was something that was done with the full knowledge of the staff. They received (the evaluation document), they voted on it. ... It is the exact document that was used (last year),” Westhoff said. “I know it’s something that people don’t like, and that’s because the outcome is different. Before, it used to be that everything was based on seniority. Now it’s based on performance.”

Another reason to reject the grievance, Westhoff said, is that the teacher evaluation procedure is not part of the teachers’ contracts, under the new state law. A grievance is supposed to be filed for a contract violation, but evaluation procedures are now state mandated rather than negotiated in contracts.

RCAPS teachers are evaluated on five domains such as performance, classroom management and data use. Principals perform a series of formal and informal evaluations and provide written feedback to each teacher at least once a year.

After a decision made at the board’s June meeting, former high school principal Tom Antioho will complete all teacher evaluations for the district, which the board hopes will provide even more consistency in the process.

Also at the meeting, the board:

n Discussed the failed sale of the Hersey Elementary School building, which had been approved at the previous meeting. The property is back on the market. There are no further details available on the previously approved sale;

n Acknowledged the retirement of elementary teacher Sally Momany, who worked for the district for 26 years; and

n Adopted a post-issuance tax compliance policy that reinforced the district’s existing practices for borrowing money to pay off debt. Westhoff reported that the district currently is refinancing its 2004 bond, which should provide about $200,000 in savings for local taxpayers.

The board will meet again at 7 p.m. on Aug. 20 at the board room.