ALBANY, Ga. — There is an old saying that goes “out of chaos comes opportunity.” If that adage holds true, the Dougherty County School System has plenty of opportunity ahead.
The Dougherty Board of Education, rocked last month by a 293-page report from state investigators naming 49 system principals, administrators and teachers in a widespread CRCT cheating scandal in 2009, finally took action at a special called meeting Wednesday night.
After spending more than two hours in executive session, the BOE emerged and took aim at the 18 teachers who had confessed to wrongdoing during the investigation.
The result was two principals resigning or taking early retirement — depending on whom you ask — three other principals being reassigned, two teachers being fired and 13 more removed from the classroom and reassigned to what in essence is Dougherty County’s version of a “rubber room.”
Three of the 18 are no longer employed by the system.
So far, so good. But that’s also the easiest part of the whole situation.
The two teachers who were fired did not have contracts and were at-will employees who could be terminated without hearings. That is not the case with the 13 teachers and three principals who were reassigned.
And therein lies the rub. While many in the public are clamoring for mass firings, the law will not allow it. As contracted employees, the principals and teachers are entitled to individual hearings.
Toss tenure into the mix, and the process will slow considerably more.
School Superintendent Joshua Murfree said Wednesday that he planned to meet with each of the 13 reassigned teachers by today. It’s expected that he will urge them to resign. Each resignation would save the system time and money and is the best-case scenario for the school system.
Accepting resignations, however, is just one of three options available to the board. The other two options are non-renewal of teacher contracts — which typically expire in May — and conducting hearings before administrative tribunals that were set up late last year to make recommendations to the board.
There are currently nine tribunal members who will be paid between $300 and $500 per day to conduct the hearings. With just seven of the 49 educators implicated now out of the system, that leaves as many as 42 who could go before the tribunals.
In addition, School Board Attorney Tommy Coleman has said that three or four more tribunal members might be necessary, depending on the volume of hearings.
That would represent a chunk of change for a school system already staring at a $9 million budget shortfall in the next fiscal year.
The DCSS is desperately attempting to avoid what happened in Atlanta when the Atlanta Public School System suspended more than 150 people with pay and is now reportedly doling out nearly a million dollars a month in salaries to principals and teachers who are sitting at home while waiting on the resolution of their cases.
Regardless, resolving the 42 local cases is going to be expensive and will likely be a drawn-out process.
Board member David Maschke, looking for a silver lining among the clouds, said Wednesday that he believes the school system now has a unique opportunity to fix many of the ills that have plagued the system.
But that, he notes, will take time.