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Court Upholds Teacher Removal: Adams 12 Board Vindicated, Taxpayers Pay

When Colorado and other states pass education reform laws, it’s important to pay attention to what problems are solved and what problems are not. As an example, Colorado’s SB 191, which passed three whole years ago, made some important changes. Effective teacher evaluations soon will be required before earning extra “due process” job protections. How well that works in practice remains to be seen.

Nevertheless, the problems related to tenure live on. Last spring I brought your attention to a disturbing case in suburban metro Denver where the Adams 12 school board fired a couple of teachers for taking thousands of dollars from a fund intended for student field trips.

Today the Colorado Observer reports that the state’s Court of Appeals has upheld the findings against Johnny Trujillo, removed along with his wife from their longtime positions at Northglenn Middle School for “insubordination and immorality.”

Writer Sunana Batra also notes that the school district so far has paid more than $25,000 in legal fees to keep Mr. Trujillo from the classroom. Compared to some tenure cases, that’s not a lot of money. But since we also learn that he plans to challenge his case in the Colorado Supreme Court — asserting that his property right to taxpayer-funded school employment — the bill is almost certain to get significantly higher.

But there may be even further costs to the taxpayer. The union that has arranged Trujillo’s “legal representation in all court proceedings” is the same union whose officers are heavily subsidized by tax dollars. Which also the same union that isn’t afraid to shed its “collaborative” image to protest the school board last fall.

And why did they protest? As Batra explains in her Observer article, because of a difficult decision the board had to make:

Faced with a choice last year between eliminating 120 teaching positions or requiring all teachers to contribute an additional 1.5% of their own salaries to their retirement fund PERA, district made the choice to keep 120 teachers in the classroom – asking teachers for a greater investment in their own pensions.

So let me get this straight. Union leaders were willing to let more than 100 of Adams 12′s least experienced teachers go to avoid asking teachers to pay their fair share of retirement contributions. But they go out of their way to defend the positions of two teachers caught with their hands into thousands of dollars from the student cookie jar? Go figure. Guess they thought as long as someone else was paying the bills it wasn’t a big deal.

Statewide, some of the problems associated with tenure may have listened, as far as ensuring that teachers whose job performance really doesn’t cut it can have their contracts non-renewed. It can happen to teachers in many public charter and innovation schools already. Don’t we have already federal laws that protect people from things like unfair discrimination? But why do we want to guarantee so many legal procedural job protections for someone caught stealing funds designated for students?

I just invite you to think about which priorities are right and important, and who is looking out for them.