Saturday, December 10, 2005

Schools resort to secret buyouts to get rid of teachers

The article below appeared first in the Small Newspaper Group but was reprinted at Students First. The story below is the second article we have posted by Scott Reeder. Let us hope more papers pick up on this great information.

If teaching is such a noble profession why does such a large majority of public school teachers join the union that inflicts so much harm to the children and taxpayers they are to serve? Great teachers are accountable to the children and parents they serve. Teachers involved with the IFT, IEA, AFT and NEA shun accountability while protecting the interests of bad teachers over the needs of the students they teach.

Schools resort to secret buyouts to get rid of teachers


By Scott Reeder

Small Newspaper Group

SPRINGFIELD - It has become so costly and difficult to fire tenured teachers in Illinois that school districts have resorted to secretly paying people to quit.

In fact, school boards have been defying the Illinois open records laws by promising to keep these hush-hush deals confidential.

For example, five years ago, James Galeski received $30,000 to resign from his teaching post in Valmeyer School District.

Folks in this sleepy southern Illinois community still are perplexed over why this tenured, Ph.D. science teacher left his job.

The state's largest teacher's union, the Illinois Education Association, has threatened litigation if the school district attempts to release records documenting purported problems with Galeski, attorneys involved with the matter have said.

But during an interview last month, Sharon Hill, the school superintendent at the time of Galeski's departure asserted that he:

Shared with students information on bomb making.

Grabbed a teenage girl's crotch while at school.

Taught in an ineffective manner.

When confronted with these accusations, Galeski said, "They are 99.9 percent bullshit."

He said school officials wanted him out because he was "tired and burned out" and because he was earning a larger salary than that cash-strapped school system wanted to pay.

For the public, just who is being truthful remains an enigma because the school district has acquiesced to the IEA's demands to keep the files sealed.

A circuit judge in Sangamon County ordered Valmeyer school district to hand over a copy of the settlement agreement itself to Small Newspaper Group, but the underlying documents which may explain why school officials wanted Galeski out of the classroom remain hidden.

These deals are cut behind closed doors and seldom receive much public scrutiny.

While the agreements are not routine, they are more common than actually firing a tenured teacher, said T.J. Wilson an education labor attorney based in Monticello.

School districts are engaging in these agreements not necessarily because they think they are good public policy but because they are at times a necessary evil, he said.

"It's a very frustrating situation. You want to be effective. You want to make a difference. You want to make things better for the students and you have someone like this who you cannot fire," said former Valmeyer Superintendent Sharon Hill.

Superintendent Hill used a law passed as part of the 1985 school reforms in an attempt to improve Galeski's performance. The process proved to be time-consuming, costly and ultimately less than effective, she said.

Galeski received continual evaluations and mentoring during a full school year.

"He would get better for a couple of days and then he would be back to where he was. Valmeyer was a very small school district and he was essentially the entire science department - I felt bad that the kids weren't getting a better science education than that," she said.

For his part, Galeski contends his students performed at or better than the state average.

But the allegations involving a teen-age girl were among the most troubling.

"There was a girl who was maybe 14 or 15 and very pretty. She was very friendly toward everyone. I don't know if he misinterpreted that friendliness or what. But he grabbed her crotch in front of other students. She was totally humiliated," Hill said.

School officials notified the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services of the alleged incident, Hill said.

"Nothing ever came of it because the girl's parents decided not to pursue it. They were afraid of putting their daughter in the spotlight," Hill said.

Galeski said he met with DCFS officials and the complaint was determined to be unfounded. He said when the female student attempted to write on the back of his bald head, he was startled and his hand jerked back and inadvertently touched her in a private area.

As for the assertion that he told students how to make bombs, he said he merely answered a question posed to him by a student in class about the explosive devices planted in the Oklahoma City bombing and the Columbine High School attack. But he added he did not give step-by-step instructions in bomb making.

The settlement agreement provided that all references to the DCFS investigation would be purged from Galeski's personnel file.

According to the settlement agreement, other items were also removed from Galeski's personnel file including:

A memo from his principal about plans to limit Galeski's internet usage.

Any record of Galeski being placed on remediation.

Negative evaluations of Galeski.

These types of agreements pose a major pitfall for school districts attempting to screen job applicants.

"We have teachers who should be facing judges, but instead are facing classrooms because school boards do this and then the teacher goes on to teach in another school district. The only thing I hope is that the people who cut these deals don't sleep too well at night," said Larry Janes, a consultant often retained by school districts in remediation cases, including Galeski's.

According to data collected by Small Newspaper Group, during the past 18 years an average of only two tenured teachers have been fired each year because of poor performance. An average of five Illinois tenured teachers are fired each year amid allegations of misconduct.

Jim Pflasterer was Galeski's principal at the time he was granted tenure.

"Science teachers are among the hardest positions to fill. That is the case in any school district. And if you are in a small southern Illinois school district, it is even harder ... Sometimes you have to settle for a warm body to fill a position," Pflasterer said.

Like most Illinois teacher settlement agreements, written details of the Galeski case are few and far between, in part because of the confidentiality clause signed by school officials.

"It's cheaper and more effective to just pay teachers to quit than to spend the money on attorneys to fire them. It is far from certain that a school district will succeed when it begins the process of firing a teacher," Janes said.

He added that lawyers with Illinois' two major teacher unions routinely request confidentiality as part of these arrangements.

"Almost every settlement agreement that I have been involved with includes one of these gag orders. The only person who benefits is the teacher. It never benefits the school district. But usually the teacher won't agree to the settlement unless it is included," Janes said.

But the flip side of this argument is one of government accountability.

"Members of the public have a right to know how their tax dollars are being spent. They have a responsibility to hold public employees and elected officials accountable. If this information is kept secret, they can't hold them accountable," said Barbara Mack, an associate professor of journalism and communication at Iowa State University and a practicing First Amendment lawyer.

Mack added the Iowa Legislature has outlawed these types of secret deals.

"There have been legions of governmental entities across the country that have gone through all kinds of convolutions to keep these types of settlement agreements private. But by-and-large the courts have ruled that they are public record," Scott Sievers, a Springfield media-law attorney, said.

Charlie McBarron, a spokesman for IEA, said personnel issues such as these should be sealed from public view to protect the teacher's privacy and to make it easier for an agreement to be reached.

But current case law clearly indicates that these agreements are public records, Sievers said.

Even so, school officials across the state routinely promise the records will remain confidential.

For example, in the midst of Galeski's agreement is this sentence:

"It is understood and agreed that all information regarding the terms of this settlement and this document itself will be kept in the strictest confidence and shall not be disclosed by way of statement, interview, or press release or in any manner to any person or entity."

These buyouts are far from routine for a number of reasons such as their cost.

But one of the most basic reasons is they are dependent on the teacher choosing to leave voluntarily.

"This mentality that teaching equates to lifetime employment is so pervasive in the profession that it is difficult to convince these teachers that they should resign," Wilson said. "Often the teachers involved in these cases have emotional or psychiatric problems that hadn't manifested themselves until later in their careers. They have also typically been teaching for awhile and are resistant to the idea that they are not a good teacher."

Just how much school districts pay out in these settlement agreements varies greatly.

For example:

In 2002, Kankakee Public Schools agreed to pay more than $93,000 to Beverly Tate, a teacher who resigned from the district in 2002. It has continued to pay for her health insurance. Tate declined to disclose, for the record, why the school district paid her to leave.

In 2001, Mt. Vernon Township High School District paid $73,000 to Ronald Shreve, a teacher accused of sexually harassing students. The money was paid after a state hearing officer ruled against the school district in a dismissal case.

In 1994, Rock Island Public Schools paid Randi Barnes $75,000 to resign after it unsuccessfully sought to have a state hearing officer fire her on grounds of poor performance.

Perhaps one of the greatest ironies to these settlements is that the state's best teachers do not receive bonuses or pay raises based on their good performance, but those teachers whom school districts have worked the hardest to dismiss receive large end-of-career bonuses.

Chris Kolker, a Belleville attorney, who has represented the Illinois Federation of Teachers in a number of settlement agreements said, "If we are dealing with a teacher, who is not involved in any misconduct, but just received a bad evaluation, we would expect the school district to pay the person at least $50,000." Scott Reeder can be contacted at 217-525-8201.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Local influence adds to teacher-union power

The article below appeared first in the Small Newspaper Group but was reprinted at Students First. Much of the information in the article below was reported to be happening by CRAFT and other true education reform groups. It is great to see it picked up by the mainstream media. The education of America's children will continue to suffer as long as the education establishment continues to control school boards.

Local influence adds to teacher-union power


By Scott Reeder

Small Newspaper Group

SPRINGFIELD - Illinois' two major teacher unions not only exert their political clout through lobbying the legislature but also through tough negotiating and politicking on a local level.

"One of the wonderful things about being a teacher is that you get to help elect your own bosses," said Illinois AFL-CIO president Margaret Blackshere, a former kindergarten teacher.

She said teacher unions on a local level often become involved in school board races through endorsing candidates and having members actively campaign for them.

Limited revenues often keep union-friendly boards from giving pay raises as large as some teachers might like, but there are less visible ways that board members can assist a union agenda.

Unions routinely push for adding procedural hoops for the district to jump through when evaluating teachers as a tradeoff for not receiving quite as large a pay raise as the union originally called for.

Chicago-attorney Fred Lifton has represented school districts in more than 1,000 labor contract negotiations during the past 35 years.

"Generally, job security issues are more important at the negotiating table than compensation issues. I wouldn't say that school boards have so much a pro-union viewpoint as a pro-teacher one. They ran for school board because they care about education. They want to be loved. It's a very parental, almost family-like relationship they have with teachers.

"So when unions push for making it harder to fire teachers, they often give in. They don't realize the long-term costs of not being able to get rid of someone who is incompetent."

Lifton added it is not uncommon for Illinois school board members to belong to teachers unions in neighboring school districts where they are employed or have family members working in the school district they are involved in governing.

"They will tell you this doesn't pose a conflict of interest and legally it doesn't. But it does certainly create a certain sympathy for what the union is requesting," he said.

In fact, it has become routine for school boards to give away much of the authority they have in the evaluation process during contract negotiations.

For example, the school board for Rock Island District 41 approved a contract with the union that includes 10 pages of detailed rules for how a teacher shall be evaluated.

The slightest deviation from any specification within the contract --- ranging from an improperly placed checkmark to a missed deadline can result in an evaluation being thrown out in a dismissal proceeding.

But it is not as though the district has tried to fire a tenured teacher recently.

According to the Rock Island chapter of the Illinois Education Association, the district has not used the evaluation system to try to fire a teacher since 1994, when it attempted to fire teacher Randi Barnes on grounds of poor performance. (Hearing officer's ruling in Barnes case)

In that case, the school district ultimately paid Barnes $75,000 to quit after a hearing officer ruled against the district.

The hearing officer Donald J. Peterson said he ruled for Barnes solely because of a procedural error. The district's mistake he said was that it only listed the teacher's weaknesses on the evaluation, but didn't include any of her strengths, which is required by the school code.

Although it was a provision in the law that protected Barnes, some contend union contracts are a greater source of protection for teachers than state law.

"If you can restrict through negotiations how often an administrator can observe a classroom, how many days notice needs be given before an observation or other procedural impediments, you are really affording the teacher more job protection than they are getting from tenure itself," said Myron Lieberman, who heads the Education Policy Institute.

Lifton added, "Once a board gives up some of its management authority, it is very hard to get it back in future contract negotiations. You have to offer something in exchange. And what does a school board have to offer, once it has given up some of its managerial authority?"

In school board elections, the local teacher's union often plays a pivotal role.

"School board elections have the lowest turnout of any elections in the state. Historically, no more than 10 to 15 percent of voters participate. The low turnout maximizes the influence of the teachers union, which usually is the only organized special interest involved in the election," said Ron Michaelson, former executive director of the Illinois State Board of Elections.

Lieberman contends that teacher unions find it easier to mobilize their members than private-sector unions.

"They have summers off and a shorter workday so they have more time to devote to political activities and they often have negotiated personal days into their contracts that can be used for political purposes like taking Election Day off to ferry voters to the polls," he said.

And that is certainly the case in some Illinois school districts.

"We went door-to-door for candidates, telephoned for them, endorsed them and really went out and worked for them. Our association could put together 1,500 votes - enough to win any school board election," said Philip Robbins, a past president of the Alton Education Association.

But in most Illinois school districts, the influence of the local teacher union is exerted with more subtlety.

"I'm sure teachers told friends and family members what candidates they thought would be good board members. In a smaller community that is just how things are done - by word of mouth. I don't remember our local union actively campaigning for candidates," said Craig Whitlock, who recently retired as superintendent of United Township High School District in East Moline.

They said it...

Former Illinois Gov. Jim Edgar: "They don't just put up money -- they put people on the streets. They are really the only groups I can think of outside of some of the religious groups that put people on the street."

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Wonder Lake the next Huntleygate

While doing research CRAFT found that Wonder Lake District 36 is repeating the same mistake as Huntley District 158. The referendum question for the consolidated 2005 election was a proposition to increase and establish the maximum annual tax rate for educational purposes at 2.40% instead of 1.82%. Prior to the passage of this referendum the current actual rate was 1.3716%. The school district advertised a 58 cent increase when in actuality the increase could be $1.0284 per 100 dollars EAV to the taxpayers.

Where are the newspaper reports on this issue? How come the Wonder Lake School Board has not told the taxpayers and parents of the district this fact?

Tuesday, December 06, 2005


Thanks to our friend Kevin Killion of the Illinois
for passing this article on. The article below appeared on the Plainview-Old Bethpage Congress of Teachers (union) website. It is nice to see that someone in the unions is finally understanding the problems the place on our society.




If the United States is to preserve our system of free public schools, teacher unions are going to have to stop accepting the status quo and making excuses for the poor performance of our students. Most of us know that contrary to all of the talk about how we are raising our standards, in most of our schools they continue to decline. The low scores on the so-called high stakes tests are testimony to the fact that large numbers of students leave school knowing next to nothing and ill equipped for any but the most menial of jobs. While many of our most talented young people spend their days in so-called accelerated courses with curricula once thought more appropriate to the college level, too many of them have whizzed right by basic skills and cannot string together three coherent sentences or know to any degree of certainty if they have received the correct change in a store. We must face the fact that some of the right-wing critique of public education, particularly their criticism of the ever inflating costs of public education, resonates with the American public because it is true, or at least truer than some of the blather put out by the people who run the schools and the unions who represent the people who work in them. If it is true that our freedom is ultimately tied to our being an enlightened and educated citizenry, we are in terrible trouble.

Excuse number one – We don’t have enough money to meet the educational needs of our students. While too many of our school districts do need more financial resources, resources that many find impossible to raise trough the regressive property tax, the fact of the matter is too many of them also waste a substantial portion of what they have, a good piece of the waste mandated by state and federal law. I’ve written elsewhere about the administrative bloat in school districts where level upon level of bureaucracy insures that teachers and educational support staff are over scrutinized and under supervised to the point where teaching innovation and imagination are increasingly giving way to the routines of educational programs, particularly in math and English, that are intended to make teaching thinking-free. We have program upon program upon program. Can anyone seriously say that our students know more and are more skilled than they used to be? With entrepreneurial aplomb some crafty educators have gone corporate, developing and skillfully marketing programs for everything from mathematics to values education. School districts employ large numbers of central office administrators who then turn around and hire consultants who often come selling their programmatic wares. Where are the NEA and AFT to challenge this pentagon-like waste in our schools?

Meanwhile, over forty school districts on Long Island defeated their school budgets last spring. Pressed by ever-escalating property taxes, citizens were in revolt. That revolt, I fear, will spread as the middle class in the United States is squeezed more and more by a taxation system designed by and for the rich and an economy that increasingly is either exporting or abolishing the good jobs that used to support a comfortable middle class life. If education unions do not become outspoken advocates for economy in our schools, they will find taxpayers increasingly revolting against them. Surely some of the budget defeats on Long Island were aided by the local newspaper’s articles on teachers earning over one hundred thousand dollars a year.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Is it time to rewrite the Constitution?

Teachers often whine how they are underpaid compared to other professionals, yet teachers' unions have plenty of money to throw at our legislators. According to the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform, the Illinois Education Association (teachers' union) contributed $10.5 million to politicians between 1993 and 2004, more than any other statewide group. Second-place went to the Illinois Medical Society which contributed about 2.6 million less than the IEA. The third top contributor was the Illinois Federation of Teachers, the state's second-largest teachers union.

Now is the time to get tough with our legislators and let them know that we do not want the schools to receive any more money. It is time to force schools to be fiscally responsible and accountable for educating our children. Taxes will rise if the unions get their way with Constitutional Amendments.

Keep this in mind while reading the article below: Better Funding for Better Schools and A+ Illinois receive large sums of funding from the teachers unions and businesses that benefit from increased school funding.

Yes, it is time to rewrite the Constitution. We need to write true school choice into the Constitution. We must also put an end to Illinois' numerous state pension scams that threaten future generations with unsustainable debt.

The article below appeared in the Daily Southtown.

Is it time to rewrite the Constitution?


By Kati Phillips

Daily Southtown

Association of School Boards calling for a constitutional convention in 2008, or sooner

Crack open the Illinois Constitution and add a line that forces the state to spend more money on education.
That's the dramatic measure a school board lobby group wants to take to obtain long-sought-after education funding reform.

At the request of more than 300 of its members, the Illinois Association of School Boards is pushing for a statewide constitutional convention in 2008 or earlier.

At a convention, delegates amend or rewrite the state's guiding document and put it up for public vote.

While this opens the door to any number of special-interest groups promoting amendments on subjects like same-sex marriage or intelligent design, it also creates the climate needed to pass education-funding reform, school board members say.

Convention delegates - unlike legislators - can attempt to raise taxes or make other hard decisions without worrying about caucus loyalty or re-election bids.

Those risks are to blame for Springfield's shrinking political will, most recently displayed when a tax swap bill that offered property tax relief failed to make it to a Senate vote, school board members say.

"Politics gets in the way of true education-funding reform," said Howard Crouse, superintendent of the Naperville district that introduced the convention resolution.

A swing and a miss

The current language on education funding was a result of the 1970 constitutional convention.

Delegates met in Springfield to find a way to get the state to pick up more of the schools' tab.

People were concerned that the state was providing just 31 percent of the money for schools, compared with 64.5 percent from local property taxes.

Districts with corporate headquarters and expensive homes were funding winners. Rural districts and industry-poor suburbs were losers.

Efforts to set a particular percentage for the state to contribute failed, but a line written by delegate Dawn Clark Netsch made it into the document.

The state has the "primary responsibility" for financing the system of public education, it reads.

"It was a club held over the heads of legislators," said Clark Netsch, a former senator and gubernatorial candidate. "The problem is, it hasn't hit hard enough."

Since 1970, lawmakers have only once raised the income tax, the main source for state education funding.

And the Illinois Supreme Court twice has rejected challenges to the state's education finance system, saying reform must be undertaken in the Legislature and not in the courts.

Though state funding reached almost 48 percent in the mid-1970s, it has dropped considerably.

About 30 percent of school funding comes from the state, and 57 percent is generated by local property taxes, according to the 2004-05 state school report card.

Rewrite every 20 years

The question of whether to hold a constitutional convention is put to voters every 20 years. Three-fifths of those voting on the question or a majority of those voting in the election are needed to convene one.

The last such referendum was in 1988, when voters turned down the opportunity. The next chance will be in 2008, unless lawmakers set an earlier date.

If voters jump at the chance this time around, they get to elect two delegates from each Legislative district to serve at the convention.

The delegates approve amendments or revisions to the constitution, and then those changes are put to a public vote. Majority rules.

Lt. Gov. Patrick Quinn said he fought for a convention in 1988 for many of the same reasons the school board association now is promoting one.

He has not taken an official position on the possible 2008 convention, but he agrees it would remove politics from the funding reform discussion.

"The Constitutional Convention may be the only mechanism taxpayers have to force a true debate on reducing the state's excessive reliance on property taxes," Quinn said.

Illinois hasn't always had an education funding system reliant on property-taxes. In the early 1900s, the state paid the entire bill for public schools.

But complaints that the state was skimping led to local property taxes becoming the main funding source.

Today, wide disparities in property values have created a huge gap in what districts spend, ranging anywhere from $4,000 to $24,000 per student.

Though more money doesn't always mean better scores, advocates say cash is key to closing the achievement gap. Many just aren't positive a constitutional convention is the way to go.

Wary of special interests

First off, a convention cannot be held on a single issue, so delegates from all political persuasions would have the opportunity to tweak the constitution, Clark Netsch said.

Abortion, same-sex marriage, prayer in school - name a hot-button issue and there would be a dogfight, school board members concede.

Secondly, there is no guarantee a convention delegate could create wording that actually would force the state to pay up and get wide support.

Instead of promoting a convention, Bindu Batchu, campaign manager of A+ Illinois, is putting her efforts into encouraging candidates for public office to support education funding reform.

The same goes for members of the Better Funding for Better Schools Coalition. Even if there is a change in the constitution, it is up to the legislature to enact it, chairwoman Sharon Voliva said. Given the state's history, she is doubtful that would happen.

"The constitutional convention won't give legislators a backbone," she said.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Southtown (Newspaper) did its job in Sauk Village

Hey folks, we could not agree more with former Mayor Dean Koldenhoven. Unlike most papers, the Northwest Herald's circulation continues to grow. The NWH must choose whether to continue protecting and promoting the status quo, taking the occasional pot shot at reformers like Larry Snow, or doing some real investigative reporting into school finances. The taxpayers of McHenry County have spoken loud and clear time and time again; they are rejecting referenda. They do not want the schools to get more money and they want their money spent wisely. The Northwest Herald is promoting great changes, lets hope there are some great changes in their investigative reporting as well.

(From the Daily Southtown)
Southtown did its job in Sauk Village

"Voice of the Southland Since 1906" it states under the name, Daily Southtown. That "Voice" of the Southtown, which came about by our 1st Amendment in the Bill of Rights, namely the "freedom of the press," has shown its persistence in pursuing one of the biggest bullies in the Southland, Mr. Tom Ryan, the now former Sauk Village elementary school superintendent.

The arrest of Mr. Tom Ryan would not have happened if it were not for the Daily Southtown's role in this interesting story. Some parents of that school district told the Southtown of how Mr. Ryan was bullying and mistreating them and their children. The subsequent news stories by the Southtown came to the attention of investigators of State's Attorney Dick Devine's staff, and led to Mr. Ryan's conviction and the further investigation of other persons involved in illegal activities.

The parents and children by themselves did not have the power to bring Mr. Ryan to justice for his wrong-doings. It took the power of the 1st Amendment's freedom of the press through the Southtown's persistence to get the facts out about what was going on in District 168.

I extend my congratulations to everyone at the Southtown who was a part of exposing this unremorseful bully of the Southland. The school children in this district will be the ones who will benefit from this episode by having monies spent for their education, instead of lining the pockets of criminals. Mr. Ryan will spend eight years in prison.

May the freedom of the press continue in fine journalistic style that the Southtown has done in this news story.

Dean Koldenhoven
Palos Heights

Editor's Note: Dean Koldenhoven, former mayor of Palos Heights, writes a monthly column for the Daily Southtown.