LAWRENCE – Fifty-nine teachers will lose their jobs at the end of the month as the receiver who runs the city's schools for the state continues a shakeup that began with his arrival three years ago.
Receiver Jeff Riley declined to be interviewed Wednesday, but in three emails he downplayed the significance of the dismissals.
“Like all other districts in the Commonwealth, we will be non-renewing some non-professional teachers that principals/the district determine are not a good fit for our schools,” Riley wrote, referring to teachers who were hired less than three years ago and do not have tenure. “Again, this is standard operating procedure for all school systems in Massachusetts every year at this time.”
Teachers union president Frank McLaughlin described it differently.
“It's a real bloodbath,” McLaughlin said.
This third round of dismissals brings to 162 the number of non-tenured teachers who will have lost their jobs under Riley. He dismissed 43 non-tenured teachers at the end of the 2012-2013 school year and 60 last year, as well as several tenured teachers.
In all, the district has 1,020 teachers, according to the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.
What's different this time is that all of the 59 teachers who will be dismissed by June 30 were hired by Riley and his principals. Chris Markuns, a spokesman for Riley, said that does not suggest that a key part of Riley's turnaround plan – improving the quality of teaching – may be stumbling.
“In a school district of 14,000 students and 1,000 teachers, there's going to be people coming and going every single year, and not every single hire is going to work out,” Markuns said. “In a school district, it's more important than in most places that you get it right and recognize when a change needs to be made.”
Markuns added further teacher dismissals are not planned.
Riley did not publicly announce the dismissals, and many of those who will lose their jobs still have not been told, McLaughlin said.
The dismissals come 11 days after state Education Commissioner Mitchell Chester announced the state would continue running Lawrence for at least another three years, with Riley expected to remain as receiver. Chester cited progress in test scores and graduation rates, but said it has not been enough and that more time is needed to put reforms in place and make them stick.
Details about the upcoming dismissals, including what schools and grade levels will lose the teachers, were not available yesterday. Markuns said the dismissals are district-wide.
The dismissals appeared to create a new fracture in the uneasy if enduring relationship between the receiver and the union president. Most disturbing, McLaughlin said, is that many of the teachers who are being dismissed were not formally evaluated.
Markuns could not describe what standards, short of a formal evaluation, were used in deciding which teachers were not good fits for Lawrence.
“That's just wrong,” McLaughlin said. “We have one gentleman who was raised in Lawrence. Raised in the projects. He goes to college, comes back, and he's told he's not a good fit for the district.
“If we're going to change things in Lawrence, we have to change things the right way. Riley and I have a good relationship, but this isn't how you turn around a school system. This is how you disrupt a system.”
McLaughlin said he has spoken with state Sen. Barbara L'Italien, D-Andover, about changing the law that allows superintendents to dismiss non-tenured teachers without cause.
In an email, Riley responded, “The teachers union understands that state law says that teachers with non-professional status (under 3 years/not tenured) can be non-renewed for any reason, regardless of evaluation.
“At the end of the day, I have a responsibility to ensure that our children have the best teachers we can find. “
Mayor Daniel Rivera, who chairs the School Committee, said he supports Riley's decision to dismiss the 59 teachers, although he used a word to describe the non-renewal process that Riley avoided – "fired."
“I trust Superintendent Riley, that he had a process that was both thorough and fair,” Rivera said. “But I understand that firing anyone is not an easy thing for the person who's being fired.”