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Albemarle County schools to pay thousands in back pay to teachers

Donna Evans has faced many challenges throughout her 21-year teaching career, the most difficult of which was the number of classes and students she had to teach.

She has had a lot. Last fall, Evans had 254 students across her 12 art classes at Jack Jouett Middle School. That’s far in excess of the state code that changed in 2018 to limit middle school teachers to no more than 150 students or 25 class periods per week, except for music and physical education teachers who can have up to 200 students.

Any teacher whose workload exceeds those limits must have “an appropriate contractual arrangement and compensation,” the law states.

Evans had the classes and the students but no such arrangement with Albemarle County Public Schools. Neither did more than 70 other teachers in the district.

In fact, county school officials were unaware of the four-year-old change in state law until last fall.

“I shrugged it off because I thought [the county] had planned my schedule in order to save money,” Evans told school board members last month. “I felt I did not have any control over the scheduling and was never asked if I agreed to more students. Now I feel taken advantage of and truly not valued.”

The county is now paying more than $500,000 in back pay and additional compensation to 73 teachers who were in the same boat as Evans, division spokesman Phil Giaramita said.

The average payment per teacher is expected to be slightly more than $8,000, with some receiving nearly $52,000 before taxes.

When Evans found out about the state code, she teamed up with two other teachers and the Albemarle Education Association to file a grievance with the school system in September. They sought the additional compensation plus back pay and a permanent change in how classes are structured.

The grievance was settled last month.

Teachers involved had between 187 and 297 students at the start of this school year and said being overloaded was overwhelming and that they felt like they were being set up to fail.

Mary McIntyre, a Jouett teacher and AEA vice president who worked on the grievance, said the association asked around to other teachers in order to determine the scale of the problem.

“We kept hearing about it more and more,” she said. “We heard from people who quit because it.”

From their conversations, middle school teachers who taught elective courses such as art or career and technical education were most affected.

“Being overloaded hurts children,” McIntyre said. “I didn’t realize it was on us to read the law and count our students.”

Settlement TermsAs part of the settlement, the division agreed to a five-tiered formula to pay teachers who have more than 150 students. The division will implement a new middle school schedule next and review state standards with school principals as part of the annual staffing process, according to a copy provided to The Daily Progress.

Teachers who have 215 to 230 students — the agreement’s highest tier — for both semesters would receive an additional 17% of their salary and $7,000 for the year.

“We wanted a cap,” McIntyre said. “The school division didn’t agree to a cap but said it won’t happen again.”

McIntyre and the other teachers said one of their goals in the grievance process was to make sure the payments made sense mathematically depending on the numbers of students taught.

“The other thing was that we wanted to make sure this didn’t happen again. We wanted to make sure the schedule was changed,” said Sara Goldsmith, a Spanish teacher at Jouett who was part of the grievance.

The additional money also would be reported to the Virginia Retirement System, according to the settlement. That important provision means that Evans will receive thousands more annually once she retires.

McIntyre said she wanted someone in the division to acknowledge that the overages shouldn’t have happened.

“Nothing about the process was equitable for teachers,” McIntyre said. “If the AEA had not been involved, it would’ve ended with the initial offer and not counted toward retirement.”

Giaramita said the money for the additional compensation is coming out of the division’s fund balance, which is expected to total $11.6 million by the end of the current fiscal year.

Teachers involved also said the school system hired additional staff during the school year to reduce their workloads.

“Another teacher was hired and my numbers of students and classes went down but only because I and two other teachers insisted,” Evans said at the meeting.

Albemarle County is not the only school system with overloaded teachers. Last year, teachers in Southampton County sued their school system over the issue. Evette Wilson, a Virginia Education Association director who works with Southamptom teachers, said the judge sided with the school division but that the association is working to refile.

The division has started to address the issue, she said.

“Everybody is now aware that they should get paid,” she said.

‘Making this right’

Sara Goldsmith started the school year as Jouett’s only Spanish teacher with 187 students on her roster — about half of whom were taking the course for high school credit.

“I have to teach these kids and help them earn their high school credit, but then also teach another 100 students,” Goldsmith said.

Over a two-day cycle at Jouett, students have eight blocks of classes, and elective blocks are cut in half. That means an elective teacher could have six different classes in a day whereas a math teacher would only have three.

Core classes such as math and English are held every day for 80 minutes, where a student would spend every other day in a 40-minute Spanish class.

After changes made this school year, Goldsmith’s workload dropped to 168 students, including her homeroom class.

Goldsmith, who is in her third year at Jouett, said because of her student counts, she’s adjusted what she grades and the high numbers make it difficult to meet the county’s expectations.

“We’re expected to have a relationship with every family,” she said. “That’s what the county would like to see, that we’re having these relationships and communication with every family and that we’re giving meaningful feedback to every student. The administrative part of my job is a whole person’s job.”

She said she has about 42 minutes of protected planning time during the school day.

Under the schedule changes for next year, Goldsmith said the electives will be full block courses, meaning that she’ll see the same group of students every day for a quarter.

“I’m still going to have the same number of students in a given year, but not at any given moment,” she said.

The core classes such as math, English and science, will meet every other day for the entire year.

“That will increase the number of students they teach, but it’ll be more fair,” she said.

Before filing the grievance, Goldsmith said she was worried about speaking up. Now she feels more empowered to do so. She hopes the settlement will lead to positive change.

“Hopefully, this will last,” she said.

Evans said having six art classes a day was an “enormous task.”

“For six classes a day, I had to provide all the consumables involved in teaching art, which includes paint, brushes, clay, paper, pencil, scissors and any other materials related to a project,” she said.

Evans said she regrets that her working conditions have been so difficult.

“Those years cannot be given back to me and the students I taught,” she said. “I would have preferred not to have gone through the stress of this grievance. I am grateful after a very demoralizing and long year, back and forth with [human resources], Albemarle County is now working on making this right.”

Source: www.dailyprogress.com

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