Ron Kraft walked into a Harbor Beach Community Schools classroom a couple of years ago and found a male teacher holding a male student in a headlock. The Harbor Beach superintendent said an investigation found that the teacher had been giving both male and female students kisses in class, with some of the students only reluctantly agreeing. Kraft said a male student confronted the teacher about the inappropriate behavior and that the teacher responded by putting the student in the headlock — just as Kraft entered the room.
The teacher was not fired. Instead, he was one of four teachers that the district has paid a total of $205,019 since 2009 to get them to leave rather than going through the tenure review process. Kraft is critical of the process, saying he’s been advised that it will cost the district at least $100,000 to go through the proceedings for a single teacher. He said his district’s only alternative to the process is a three-day suspension without pay.
Tenure is granted to teachers after a four-year probationary period. Michigan state law currently mandates that once a public school teacher is given tenure, the teacher cannot be demoted or dismissed without judgment from the Tenure Commission or a settlement between the teacher and school district. The process for removing a tenured teacher can take several years and many costly legal steps.
“The way the tenure laws are at the moment … it is to the advantage of the people who are the perpetrators,” Kraft said. “Who is that set up to protect? Our students or our adults? It’s adult-centered all the way. That’s a huge problem in the educational culture. … The tenure law has to change. No doubt about it. It’s too expensive.”
The House recently passed a package of bills that made it easier to fire ineffective teachers. The Senate is considering the reforms.
The Mackinac Center for Public Policy has sent Freedom of Information Act requests to every school district asking for their expenses in tenure proceedings. Some districts have already responded.
Harbor Beach is not the only school facing costly buy-outs of teachers who need to be removed.
Atlanta paid $151,116 to remove two teachers over the last three years, Cheboygan paid $170,046 to remove three teachers over the last two years, and it cost Bronson $122,734 to remove one teacher in 2008. Grand Haven paid at least $143,600 in salary and benefits to remove three teachers over the last four years. None of those districts went through the tenure process.
“Taxpayers, almost none of whom enjoy a job perk like tenure, shouldn’t have to pay extra to remove government employees who aren’t doing their jobs well,” Michael Van Beek, education policy director at the Mackinac Center, said in an email. “Every dollar districts pay to remove ineffective teachers because of tenure privileges is one less dollar they can spend on hiring more teachers and providing services parents want for their kids.”
Gil Sugor, the Michigan Education Association representative for the Harbor Springs district, did not return an email seeking comment.
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