Hey, New Orleans, You Probably Shouldn't Have Fired Those 7000 Teachers After Katrina. #Payup
So it turns out that Louisiana's attempt to "remake" public education after Katrina -- which mostly consisted of opening up the state's coffers to grifty charter schools and handing out vouchers for religious schools, regardless of their quality -- has run into just a teensy bit of a problem: in their zeal to screw teachers' unions, they also fired over 7000 teachers without due process, and a court in the teachers' class-action suit has found that the teachers are entitled to damages. Not the full 5 years' back pay and benefits the teachers sought, but 2-3 years' pay, plus benefits for those who were enrolled in them before being fired:
The decision validates the anger felt by former teachers who lost their jobs. It says they should have been given top consideration for jobs in the new education system that emerged in New Orleans in the years after the storm.
Beyond the individual employees who were put out, the mass layoff has been a lingering source of pain for those who say school system jobs were an important component in maintaining the city's black middle class.
It shouldn't have happened in the first place, of course, but in the chaos following Katrina, pushers of charter schools and other schemes to privatize public education were quick to jump in and "help" -- mostly helping themselves to large pools of money for "rebuilding."
And just to add insult to catastrophe, the influx of new reformers have changed the, shall we say, complexion of New Orleans schools, not to mention siphoning public money into private education companies:
More young, white teachers have come from outside through groups such as Teach for America. And charter school operators often offer private retirement plans instead of the state pension fund, which can discourage veteran teachers who have years invested in the state plan.
Though many schools have made a conscious effort to hire pre-Katrina teachers and New Orleans natives, eight years later, people still come to public meetings charging that outside teachers don't understand the local students' culture.
And just to underline the message that a new boss was in town, the 7,000 teachers were first put on "disaster leave without pay," and then unceremoniously fired in 2006. For an extra kick in the teeth, the terminations themselves were often badly botched:
Notices were delivered to teachers' old addresses, sometimes to houses that no longer existed, and they directed teachers wanting to appeal the layoff to come to the School Board's building, which Katrina had destroyed. This happened even though state-appointed consultants Alvarez & Marsal had set up a hotline to collect teachers' evacuation addresses.
The charters rushed in, able to pick and choose their students and with no obligation to hire teachers displaced by Katrina. The public school system was largely taken over by the state-run "Recovery School District," leaving only 6 schools in the Orleans Parish School Board, down from 120. But hey, it was good for kids, and cost-effective... as long as the fired teachers didn't win their class-action suit. Now that the teachers have won, the back pay and benefits may cost the state and the city $1.5 billion, according to an estimate by attorneys during the appeal. Oops, stupid due process. (Also, yes, that is billion with a b. We mathed it.)
Golly, it's almost as if treating contracted employees as a bunch of storm-damaged debris to be carted off to the landfill was not such a cost-effective strategy after all.
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