Fifty-nine teachers in the Lawrence school system will soon be dismissed, a decision that Jeffrey Riley, the school system’s superintendent and receiver, said is routine, but that union president Frank McLaughlin, characterized as “a punch in the gut.”
Riley referred to the dismissals as normal practice used by many school districts across Massachusetts. All teachers to be dismissed are nontenured and can be removed if they are not considered a good fit for the district, he said.
The district employs more than 1,000 teachers.
“Nonrenewal is simply one of many ways school districts work to place the best possible teachers in front of their students,” Riley said in a statement.
McLaughlin said the announcement came as a shock.
Fewer teachers should have been dismissed, and the evaluation process that led to dismissals was often unfair, McLaughlin said. He contends that many of the nonrenewed teachers had partial evaluations or no evaluations at all.
“A lot of folks . . . it really hit them hard. They had no idea,” McLaughlin said.
Riley said McLaughlin’s statement contained “factual inaccuracies,” though he did not elaborate. He noted thatthese teachers could be dismissed regardless of evaluation.
The recent announcement is the latest chapter in an effort to reform the Lawrence school system. In 2011, the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education designated the district as chronically underperforming, and in early 2012, the state appointed Riley as the district’s superintendent and receiver.
Tasked with turning around the district, Riley began a series of reforms including creating partnerships with charter-school operators and cutting central office, teacher, and principal positions.
Reforms have met resistance from the union in the past. The teachers union filed two labor complaints with the state Labor Relations Board during recent negotiations, alleging that Riley was violating Massachusetts law by avoiding collective bargaining. It took the two sides more than two years to agree on a contract.
According to McLaughlin, his relationship with Riley has since been repaired, but after the dismissal of 59 teachers, it is back on shakier grounds.
“I don’t think it’s as solid today as it was yesterday,” McLaughlin said.
Mitchell D. Chester, commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, said in a statement that Riley has his “full confidence.”
Despite their differences, McLaughlin said he hopes that the union and administration will move past their current rift in order to better the school district.
“We’re supposed to be working as a partnership,” McLaughlin said. “I hope that we can move along.”Monica Disare can be reached at email@example.com