Who Stays? Who Goes?

Meridian rubric will determine draconian cuts


On Wednesday, June 8, when Meridian teachers say goodbye to their students and wish them well on the final day of classes, the roles could well be reversed. Many of the educators in the state's largest school district will be packing up their lesson plans for good.

"People are panicked, they're totally panicked," said one teacher who asked to be anonymous. "It's all people are talking about, especially the kids. They're point-blank asking us, 'Are you going to lose your job? Will you be here next year?'"

Each teacher BW spoke to asked that their identity not be revealed, in fear of being singled out or ostracized in a process that could lead to dismissal.

"I feel totally kicked around and undervalued," another teacher told BW.

But a numerical value is precisely what each teacher in the district is being tagged with. A so-called "rubric" has been completed by administrators, which will be the ultimate arbiter of who stays and who goes in the next school year.

When Meridian voters turned thumbs down on an $18.5 million-a-year supplemental levy by a 57 percent to 42 percent margin on May 17, the school district went into a tailspin.

Facing an approximate $21.8 million shortfall, the district Board of Trustees proposed taking a cleaver to the already-lean school calendar. If approved, seven school days could be eliminated in 2011-2012, totaling a 14-day reduction in just two years. Administrative positions are also expected to be on the guillotine. But the stunner that has everyone talking is the possible elimination of 100 teaching positions, and that's where the rubric comes in.

In academia, a rubric originally referred to a teacher's red ink on a graded paper. The irony wasn't lost on teachers that the red ink in this particular case comes from the school district's fiscal crisis, and this time, a rubric could put them out of a job.

The worksheet requires a series of points derived from performance evaluations, credentials (advanced degrees or certificates) and "extras." In fact, a masters degree or National Board Certification can earn a teacher one point while the head coach of a sports team can score two points.

"Most of us are at school to teach," said one educator. "This really puts the district's priorities in question."

"I don't coach," said another teacher. "But I coach my colleagues to be better teachers. I don't see any points for that."

But Meridian School Superintendent Linda Clark staunchly defended the extra points for "heads" of extra-curricular activities.

"You have to do that," said Clark. "In the practical running of a school, you couldn't have all the people responsible for those extra-curricular programs gone."

Clark said the district painstakingly crafted the rubric.

"We've run this past our attorney a dozen times," she said.

Clark said the district will be hard pressed when coming up with a final list of cuts, because there will be so many "ties." As a result, tiebreakers were included on the rubric, and yes, one of the tiebreakers is an extra point for anyone who may be an assistant coach.

Another debate erupted when some teachers told BW that they were told they could not be labeled "distinguished," which could garner five much-needed points. Three teachers confirmed to BW that an administrator told a gathering of teachers that, "Nobody lives in the world of distinguished. You only visit there."

"If that was said, it was absolutely inappropriate," said Clark. "And I will deal directly with the person who would have said that."

Clark said on a scale of one to 10, her stress level lately is about a 20. She said when the 2011-2012 school year begins, at $3,900 per student, the Meridian School District will be the lowest-funded school district in the country among all districts with enrollment above 25,000.

Teachers, parents, students and the general public will have one more opportunity to weigh in on the matter at a public hearing set for Tuesday, June 14, at 7 p.m. in the Mountain View High School auditorium.