As of May 27, most of Gadsden County public school’s principals were not rehired for the 2021-2022 school term.
Additionally, many of the school’s teachers – who do not have Professional Florida Educator’s Certificate – will be offered positions as provisional instructors, and their salaries will be cut by $7,000.
Last month, several Gadsden County School district employees received letters from the school board, notifying them that their contracts may not be renewed for the 2021-2022 school year.
Some employees, mainly uncertified teachers, received letters informing them that their salaries would decrease in the upcoming school year as a result of the changes; instead of being paid as a beginning teacher, “all instructional personnel who do not have certification will be compensated as full-time substitutes,” the letter stated.
On Tuesday, May 25, the school board met for its regularly scheduled monthly meeting and had an agenda that included a packet with a list of school employees who were rehired for next year.
None of the Gadsden County public schools’ principal’s names were on that list.
Superintendent Elijah Key said that the matter of the principals’ contracts not being renewed is a ‘personnel matter’ and he has no plans to discuss the discontinuation of the principals’ contracts during a public meeting.
Head Start director Lakeisha Perkins’ name also was not on the list of recommendations for rehiring.
During the meeting, School Board Member Cathy Johnson inquired as to why all of the district’s behavior specialists received letters from the district, informing the specialists that their contracts would not be renewed.
According to Superintendent Key, the district was not going to renew contracts with the behavioral specialists, as none of them were certified to be a specialist.
“The letters went out to all uncertified teachers,” Key said. “The state tells us not to hire uncertified teachers.”
Key said he believed the behavior specialists were brought on in a ‘politically motivated’ move by the district, previously.
“I need behavior specialists changing the behavior of students, not just getting salaries,” said Key.
The school board’s attorney, Dorothy Minnis noted that by Florida statute, every district has to notify employees that they may not be reappointed.
“It’s required by law to send the letters out by a certain time, but that doesn’t mean they won’t be reappointed,” Minnis added.
Johnson said she did not agree with Key’s recommendation, and she wanted the board to intervene.
Attorney Minnis explained that the school board member cannot refuse the recommendation of the superintendent, unless they have good cause to intervene.
“Good cause has to be more than ‘I disagree,’” Minnis said. “The fact that you don’t think he doesn’t
have enough data or analysis as you would have is not good cause.”
Key said he did not base his decision off evaluations.
“Every principal and assistant principal has a very effective evaluation, so if all are effective and our schools are where they are at, then we have a problem,” Key said. “So we can’t use data in this situation.”
School board chair Leroy McMillan explained that the board’s job is to make policy and procedures, and that the hiring and firing of staff members is Key’s job.
“The superintendent has the liberty to hire and fire, and we have no influence,” McMillan said.
The board voted 4-1 to approve Key’s recommendations for rehiring, with board member Johnson being the lone dissenting vote.
The board also voted to approve Key’s recommendation of a job description for provisional instructors, or in other words, permanent substitutes, as Key also called them.
Instructors who are not certified by the state will make $31,000 a year beginning June 30, instead of being paid $38,000 as beginning teachers like they were during the 2020-2021 school year.
After being hired, provisional instructors must enroll in the Professional Development Certification Program assisted by the Professional Learning Department, make regular progress toward obtaining a professional certificate over a three-year period, during which the provisional instructor must obtain a Professional Florida Teaching Certificate to continue working in the district.
Previously, the district allowed instructional personnel to teach without being certified.
“We’ve been doing it, but we’ve been violating state law,” said Key.
In the past, teachers would obtain a temporary teaching certificate for the Department of Education, which allowed them to teach in classrooms for three years.
Key said many of those with temporary teaching certificates were not passing the required exams needed to become certified by the time the temporary certificate expired.
The district’s human resources director Dr. Sonja Jackson said that the district will be assisting instructors in becoming certified.
“There will be things in place to ensure they get certified,” Dr. Jackson said, adding that provisional instructors, or in other words permanent substitutes, will make less than teachers.
Gary Russ Jr., who teaches English language arts at James A. Shanks Middle School told Key and the board members that he will fall into the category of provisional instructors after June 30, as he has not passed the state certification exam.
According to Russ, his salary may drop to $31,000 a year as a result of the changes – a drop from the previous $34,000 and $38,000 that he has made in previous years.
“That is a slap in my face,” Russ said. “I’ve been in the classroom for three years.”
Russ also said he had been teaching in the Gadsden County School District for a year and a half before becoming aware of the new teacher programs.
“You’re telling me I’m going to lose $7,000 because I didn’t receive the help I need from the district?” Russ asked.
Key noted that provisional instructors whose temporary teaching certificate expires can apply for an extension through the Florida Department of Education.
According to Key, he has signed off on every application for an extension that was sent to him.
“If they submit a letter, it will be signed and sent to the Department of Education,” Key said.
School Board Member Charlie Frost suggested postponing voting on the matter until after the board could further discuss it with the teachers.
Key said if the board didn’t approve the new job position, instructors who are not certified would become regular substitutes next year and would be paid accordingly.
Key said substitutes are paid $15 an hour, and don’t receive any benefits.
Board members Steve Scott, Leroy McMillan and Charlie Frost voted in favor of creating the provisional instructor job position, while School Board Members Cathy Johnson and Karema Dudley voted against it.
Provisional instructors will receive benefits such as sick leave, in accordance with the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Sustainability Act.
In an effort to fill Gadsden County public schools’ classrooms with more highly effective, certified teachers the board also unanimously voted to partner with St. Leo University to implement a Paraprofessional to Professional program.
The program is designed to support paraprofessionals who want to become teachers in the Gadsden County School District.
Upon completion of the two-year program, teachers will obtain teaching credentials, and teacher certification, along with one of two degree options: Bachelor’s of Arts Kindergarten-sixth grade elementary education with Kindergarten-12 grade reading endorsement, or Bachelor’s of the Arts in middle grades education (social science and English).
In other matters, the board members also voted 5-0 to allow the City of Gretna to purchase the old Gretna Elementary School, which permanently closed in 2017.
Erin Hill – Gadsden County News Service