School board rejects contract-breaking penalty

By Cecilia Chan
Independent Newsmedia

Deer Valley Unified School District Governing Board struck down a proposal to fine teachers $2,000 if they break their contract.

Other West Valley school districts such as Dysart and Peoria impose a similar penalty of $2,500 each.

“The overarching goal here is to attract and retain teachers,” Board member Darcy Tweedy said last week. “This will be a very detrimental thing I think for our district. To pass it would be called winning a battle and losing a war.”

Ms. Tweedy said the proposed policy would deter an already small pool of teachers from applying to work in the district.

Arizona has been dealing with a growing teacher shortage. According to a survey released in 2016 by the Arizona School Personnel Administrators Association, 47 percent of the 8,190 teacher positions either remained vacant or were filled by an individual not meeting the standard teacher requirements. And a report released last year by the Arizona Department of Education task force found state universities are only able to produce enough graduates to fill half of the open teaching positions.

Currently, teachers who leave their job in the district without approval can be reported to the Arizona Education Department, which is now taking a contract breach seriously. The department after an investigation can impose sanctions such as removing the teaching certificate, suspension to nothing at all, according to district staff.

Ms. Tweedy was joined in her dissenting vote by members Jenny Frank and Ann Ordway.

Ms. Frank said she could not support the policy because the risks far outweigh the benefits.

“It sends a very poor message to current employees and has a detrimental effect on employee morale,” she said.

Ms. Frank added of the 57 teachers who left the district this school year, only 32 would have been subject to the penalty. Of that number, 20 cited workload issues for leaving.

Ms. Frank asked what the district was doing to address that, which to her was more important than to impose punitive damages on teachers to keep them in the classrooms.

“I understand the frustration HR has had with teachers breaking contracts in the middle of the year,” she said. “It’s difficult to fill those positions and is not beneficial for students to have long-term subs. So, I understand the reasoning to having this policy in place.”

The aim of the penalty was to recover the district’s cost to recruit a replacement and to discourage teachers from breaking their contracts. Exceptions included retirement, internal promotion, health reasons and moving out of county, state or country.

Many districts require a teacher to pay “liquidated damages” in exchange for board approval of a resignation, and this fee can vary from $500 to $3,000, according to the Arizona Education Association.

“I do not believe this is a punitive clause,” said Board President Kim Fisher, who noted she has signed her teaching contracts with such a clause. “While I value teachers and administrators and students, overall our responsibility, in my opinion, is the district as a whole. Not having this … would be irresponsible on our part in protecting the district.”

She added the policy does not prevent a teacher from leaving the district as there are extenuating circumstances they can break their contract.

“The only time I’ve seen this officially enacted is when there has been a blatant disregard of a contract,” Ms. Fisher said.

Board member Ann O’Brien agreed.

“I don’t think it is the mission or goal to put this policy in place to do it so we can collect the money,” she said. “I believe the goal of this policy is to discourage teachers to leave or to encourage them to complete their contract.”

Ms. O’Brien said to have a substitute teacher in place long term for weeks, a semester or quarter does not serve students well.


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