District 113A Interviewing for 10 Teaching Positions; No Word from ISBE on Additional Hires
District officials said principals have interviewed entry-level teachers to fill the vacant position, per the state-approved financial plan.
Administrators in Lemont-Bromberek Combined School District 113A are moving forward with filling 10 vacant teaching positions as they await word from the state board on hiring an additional five.
The District 113A school board voted unanimously in April to approve a certified staffing plan that would include no additional hires for the 2012-13 school year. The second option considered by the board—to add five positions using the savings from the retiring teachers—was tabled.
Interim Superintendent Robert Madonia confirmed Tuesday that interviews are well underway to fill the district's 12 vacant teaching positions. Two have already been filled by tenured teachers with recall rights, leaving 10 open to outside candidates.
"We start the hiring process as soon as possible in order to get the best of the best," Madonia said. "The principals have already screened applicants, and the top candidates have been called in for interviews."
Madonia said administrators are following the "standard hiring practices" used by the district in recent years, and are being mindful of the financial plan approved by the Illinois State Board of Education.
He confirmed that District 113A could see a savings of more than $500,000 by replacing the retiring tenured teachers with individuals who qualify for BA1, or entry-level, pay.
"Although it is not specifically stated in the document, the financial plan uses projections that assume we would reduce expenditures by hiring at the BA1 level," Madonia said.
On Tuesday, more than 50 parents and community members sent an open letter to Madonia, incoming superintendent Susan Birkenmaier, school board members and the press expressing their concern that experienced teachers were not being considered for the vacant positions, even though they have offered to work for entry-level pay.
"It is our opinion that the Board made a decision to hire only inexperienced teachers," the letter states. "Although the 113A financial plan says new staff must be hired at entry-level pay (BA1), we believe experienced teachers would accept entry level pay and would be better qualified for the positions than some inexperienced candidates. In this economy, workers in all industries are accepting less pay than they made before because they want to be employed in a field they enjoy. To pass them up and hire only inexperienced staff at the same price at which you could get more qualified, experienced workers, is a bad deal."
Madonia said the administration is aware of the applicants who agreed to work for lower pay, but have not considered the option thus far.
"There are a number of ramifications to consider, one of which is the inequity we'd be creating among teachers in this district," he said. "We have to consider all facets of the hiring process—legal, cost/savings, staff morale, inequity—and my opinion is that pursuing that option could cause a number of issues down the line."
Old Quarry Middle School teacher Michelle Nevin, president of the Local 604 of the American Federation of Teachers, said there are no union rules that would prohibit experienced teachers from accepting a job at entry-level pay.
"I'm not sure what the district's policy is, but the union wouldn't stop teachers from working at the BA1 level," she said.
Although the letter sent Tuesday claims District 113A board members have discussed hiring practices in closed session, Madonia and Board President Dave Molitor denied that any "inappropriate discussion" has occurred.
"No decisions have been made during closed session. The board makes decisions in public, as required by state law," Madonia said.
Molitor said the board has yet to see any recommendations from the administration, but will move forward with the district's best interests in mind.
"I can understand that people are frustrated, but the board will continue to be responsible make the best decisions possible as we work to improve our financal position," Molitor said.
Madonia said the district values input from parents, but is tied to its financial plan until June 30, 2013, when District 113A is expected to be off the state's financial watch list.
"We understand the concerns from parents," Madonia said. "It would be great to hire back teachers with years of experience, but until we are off the financial watch list there are sacrifices we have to make in order to show the state that we're being fiscally responsible. Improving our financial condition has been and continues to be a top priority."
Madonia said hiring recommendations could be sent to the board as early as next week, but could also be delayed until next month.
Meanwhile, the district is still waiting to hear whether ISBE officials will allow five additional hires for the 2012-13 school year.
With District 113A expecting to save approximately $537,805 from this year's retirees, school board members have been discussing the possibility of using part of the savings to hire additional teachers and reduce class sizes. However, any changes to the staffing plan would require an update to the district's financial plan, which must be approved by the state board.
"We're hoping to get a response soon, because every day that passes means we're losing viable candidates," Madonia said.
The District 113A school board will hold its monthly business meeting at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Old Quarry Middle School, 16100 W. 127th St.
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