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School's in, but not all city teachers are in the classroom

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Aug. 31, 2010 -St. Louis Public Schools have paid out as much as a teacher's salary for a full year to teachers who have yet to have their own class this fall, the district acknowledged Tuesday.

Because of unusual movement of teachers, as schools were forced to reconstitute their staffs as part of a turnaround effort, as many as 26 teachers were not assigned to classes that matched their certification, according to Sharonica Hardin, the school system's chief human resource officer.

Some of those teachers were assigned to clerical duties or to substitute teaching positions, Hardin said; others remained at home, awaiting an assignment. Hardin estimated that the district paid out between $30,000 and $40,000 to teachers who were not in charge of a class. The range of their normal salaries is from $37,000 to $50,000, she said.

Hardin said that by next week, after Labor Day, the district should have a better idea of how many teachers it would need, and for what classes. At that point, she said, teachers who have not been in charge of classrooms so far could either be given a classroom outside of their certification, with temporary credentials, or lose their jobs.

"Considering the massive staff changes the district had this year," Hardin said, "a number of 26 is a very small number. We didn't want to begin a reduction of force if it wasn't needed. We didn't want to uproot staff if that wasn't needed. We wanted to do it in the most professional way possible.

"The process should have been a little more defined, but some of the outlines weren't that clear."

At this point, she said, all individuals have been assigned either to teaching positions or support positions, with seven or eight individuals unable to fit into a post that matches their certification. She said that depending on seniority, teachers who are doing clerical work may be in posts that pay more than their teaching jobs.

In the end, she said, it is not certain that all people being paid now will get jobs, Hardin said.

"For those individuals we are unable to place, it is inevitable there may be a reduction in force. We may get to that point. We hope we don't have to get to that point. That is the worst case."

As part of the turnaround process at eight schools in the district, at least half of the staff had to be replaced. That didn't mean that those teachers would lose their jobs altogether, but they had to be reassigned.

The problem, Hardin said, was that that in the case of some subjects -- she used industrial technology as an example -- some teachers who were certified in only one area may not have the qualifications needed in some other jobs that were open. In those cases, she said, they were assigned to clerical positions or to substitute teaching posts until the district's needs were clearer. Classes in the district began Aug. 16.

Based on past enrollment patterns, she said, that point does not come until after Labor Day.

"If you watch our attendance trends," Hardin said, "it increases. We don't have 100 percent on the first day. We wanted to make sure before we had a reduction in force, we wanted to see how many students will come. We still have vacant positions -- we just don't have the talent pool to fill those vacant positions."

Ideally, Hardin said, the hiring process would have gone more smoothly and would have been completed by the time the school year began. But, she said, given the unusual amount of turmoil in the system, teacher resignations were being received daily, and student enrollment continued through the month of August. "That is the primary driver of staffing," she said.

"It is a very interesting process we go through, making sure we are doing the best for our children but also doing what is best for our employees as well. The bottom line is that we had some staff who were not assigned on day one. Some were not assigned to teaching positions, some were doing additional duties in a teaching capacity and some were at home awaiting assignment."

Hardin said all of the decisions concerning teacher employment were made in consultation with St. Louis Teachers Union Local 420.

Dale Singer began his career in professional journalism in 1969 by talking his way into a summer vacation replacement job at the now-defunct United Press International bureau in St. Louis; he later joined UPI full-time in 1972. Eight years later, he moved to the Post-Dispatch, where for the next 28-plus years he was a business reporter and editor, a Metro reporter specializing in education, assistant editor of the Editorial Page for 10 years and finally news editor of the newspaper's website. In September of 2008, he joined the staff of the Beacon, where he reported primarily on education. In addition to practicing journalism, Dale has been an adjunct professor at University College at Washington U. He and his wife live in west St. Louis County with their spoiled Bichon, Teddy. They have two adult daughters, who have followed them into the word business as a communications manager and a website editor, and three grandchildren. Dale reported for St. Louis Public Radio from 2013 to 2016.