Teachers’ union, residents question new assistant principal proposal

  • Deodonne Bhattarai speaks about how her son's special ed coordinator helped him ride the bus last fall at a Concord school board public hearing on March 18, 2019. Caitlin Andrews—Monitor staff

  • CEA president Mike Macri speaks about five proposed assistant principal positions at a Concord school board public hearing on March 18, 2019. Caitlin Andrews—Monitor staff

  • Debby Curley speaks at a Concord school board public hearing on March 18, 2019. Caitlin Andrews—Monitor staff

  • Concord School District Building Courtesy

Monitor staff
Published: 3/19/2019 6:16:07 PM

Concord’s teachers’ union isn’t ready to say goodbye to any of the district’s special education coordinators without a fight.

District administrators have proposed adding five new assistant principals at the elementary schools that would replace 2.5 part-time special education coordinators positions next school year, for a cost of $441,112.

In addition to providing another layer of leadership in the elementary schools, the assistant principals would be in charge of supervising student services, an umbrella term for students who need Title I, English Language Learning, 504 plans or special education services, or are homeless.

Mike Macri, president of the Concord Education Association, said the union will bring a grievance against district administration if the positions are adopted.

“The special ed coordinators have more value for teachers on a day to day basis,” Macri said. “The reality of those positions is you’re sitting in a lot of meetings and doing a lot of paperwork.”

Macri said the union wasn’t consulted prior to the proposal to create the positions, something school officials had done in 2017.

In that instance, the district was looking to convert a vacant special education coordinator role at the high school into a special education director position. In May 2017 letter to Forsten, Macri wrote that the union agreed to the switch “without exception or argument” because it would bring the “necessary supervision and support to allow for more successful outcomes for students and staff.”

The letter went on to say the arrangement is a “one-time agreement in the spirit of cooperation and better outcomes for students and staff at CHS, based on the arguments you and Steve made when we met.”

If a grievance is brought, it could take months to resolve, Macri said.

The question of a grievance was first raised by board member Barb Higgins, who asked Superintendent Terri Forsten in February if the district would be in conflict with the union if the board passed the budget and adopted the positions.

“I’m trying to avoid a grievance,” she said then. “...Before we say ‘yes, let’s do this,’ let’s make sure we’re doing it correctly.”

On Monday after a public hearing on the budget, Forsten said she respects the union’s right to advocacy, but also said the administration is not violating the contract and would prevail in a grievance case.

Forsten said if she thought the proposal to add the assistant principal positions would run afoul of the teachers’ contract, she never would have brought it forward.

The union isn’t the only concerned party. Residents speaking Monday night also worried about losing the special ed coordinators, which they feared could negatively impact students.

“To take away the coordinator position would be devastating. I don’t believe other children would be serviced the way they are now,” said Concord resident Jessica Thompson, whose two children attend Rundlett Middle School.

“They would be lost in the shuffle of other students who have just as much deserving rights to a coordinator. The ELL students, the students who are homeless, the students who have behavioral issues, they all need someone to support them and help them through adolescence.”

Deodonne Bhattarai worried that losing special ed coordinators would result in a different experience for children who have special needs. She said a coordinator comforted her son, who uses a wheelchair, after he rode the bus for the first time last fall, by presenting him with a superhero cape and mask to hang on his chair.

“It’s that kind of thing I don’t want to get lost in the change,” she said. “I’m worried that children like my son won’t get that kind of attention from an administrator.”

And Debby Carley, a Concord resident since 1997, questioned if the new positions would ultimately benefit students in the long run.

“What’s needed are great teachers in the classroom so that the education outcomes for students are as fine as they have often been,” she said.

Last week, Forsten said the need for more positions to help handle the district’s student services population is something administration has discussed “for several years.”

“We keep hearing about children coming to school who aren’t prepared, who have social issues, skill deficiencies … trauma in their foreground and background,” she said then.

According to district data, the middle and high schools have a roughly 200 to 1 student to administator ratio and a roughly 30 to 1 ratio of staff to administrators, which includes principals, assistant principals, special ed directors and athletic directors.

In the elementary schools, those ratios balloon to about 400:1 students to administrators, and 65:1 staff to administrator. But the elementary schools do not have assistant principals, or full-time special ed coordinators, or athletic directors.

This means when a principal has to leave a building for whatever reason, they have no second in command, Forsten said last week during a board Q&A session. The school’s nurse, the principal’s administrative assistant, or sometimes a counselor will often take over for short periods.

Forsten said the district’s special ed coordinators have expressed interest in the new roles and that the district offers a path to get administrative credentials.

Applicants would have to be certified in student services, Forsten said. They will not be tasked with disciplining children.

The district will still have to post the jobs if the positions are adopted, Forsten said.

The school board will host another public hearing on the issue at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday at Rundlett Middle School.

(Caitlin Andrews can be reached at 369-3309, candrews@cmonitor.com or on Twitter at @ActualCAndrews.)Editor’s note: This story has been corrected to reflect the location of Wednesday’s public hearing. 

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