Appeals process wastes money

  • Posted: Saturday, February 1, 2014 12:01 a.m.

It doesn't take a course in statistics to figure out that the Charleston County School District's teacher appeals process isn't fully functional. No amount of analysis can justify spending $150,000 to pay eight teachers whose contracts were not renewed and who aren't working.

But that's what's happening. Three teachers were paid $39,894 because their appeals hearings were held too late. Five more have been paid $115,000 because their appeals hadn't been heard at all.

There's blame to share. The Charleston County School Board, required by law to hear the appeals, has struggled to get a quorum of members to do so. The hearings can take all day, and members say they can't miss that much work. But members chose to run for the board and should be doing what is expected of them.

And the Legislature has failed to hone the law to avoid such situations as Charleston is facing. It needs to find a way to provide teachers due process without unreasonable expectations from the school board.

State Sen. Paul Thurmond, R-Charleston, told reporter Diette Courrégé Casey that he intends to introduce legislation to address the overall system, which he says doesn't efficiently handle under-performing teachers. He offered no details, but he pointed out that in addition to the outrageous expenditure of money to people who aren't working for it, some districts are cash-strapped and can't afford to pay replacement teachers while they are paying teachers whose appeals are pending. That leaves education in the hands of less expensive, but also less trained, substitute teachers for months at a time.

Since The Post and Courier began questioning the district about this problem, two hearings were scheduled. That shows it can be done, and it should have been done long before this. Unless or until the Legislature makes some changes, school board members here and elsewhere in South Carolina will have to bite the bullet and find a way to abide by the law.

Some local school board members would be happy to offer advice to Sen. Thurmond as he considers legislation. Chris Collins thinks a committee of the board could do the hearing, and recommend action to the full board. That was how the board used to function, but the S.C. Supreme Court found it unacceptable under current law.

Todd Garrett suggested the administration hear appeals and provide the board with all relevant documents so they can vote on it knowledgeably. Chris Fraser said input from the administration would be very helpful because some appeals require evaluating a teacher's competency - something board members are not qualified to do.

The Charleston County School District is in the midst of implementing a new teacher evaluation tool called BRIDGE. Surely professionals who have been steeped in the matter for months would have some insights for Mr. Thurmond.

Or he could find out how other states handle teacher appeals.

The fix needs to be made soon so that taxpayers don't see public money being frittered away, so that teacher appeals are dealt with in a timely fashion and so that students are being taught by competent, successful teachers.

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