Four public school districts in Michigan recently paid a combined $525,000 in legal fees while attempting to remove just four teachers.
L'Anse Creuse Public Schools spent $158,522 from 2008-2010 to remove one tenured teacher. Swartz Creek Community Schools has spent $140,525 so far in an ongoing case to remove a teacher. Farmington Public Schools spent $116,830 to discharge a teacher in 2009. Mt. Morris Consolidated Schools has spent $109,000 removing one teacher. This works out to be $131,250 per employee removed in attorney fees. This does not include what the districts paid in severance packages, health care or other benefits often paid to tenured employees while trying to remove them.
David Ruhland, assistant superintendent for Farmington, says his district spent almost a year trying to remove the teacher in “a standard case of poor performance.” He believes the process needs to be tweaked.
“The real issue with the current tenure law is not necessarily the extended due process, but that the teacher continues to get paid,” said Ruhland. “And the MEA (Michigan Education Association) is paying for their legal fees.”
“There is no incentive for a teacher not to wait the process out.”
“When considering the issue of tenure reform, many people don’t see the ‘behind-the-scenes’ costs,” said Michael Van Beek, director of education policy at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. “But these costs are very real for both districts and taxpayers.”
Many other districts have also spent high amounts of money on attorney costs: Wayland Union spent $70,108 to remove one teacher in 2010. Marshall Public Schools spent $66,789 a few years ago. Gladwin Community Schools has spent $39,043 so far in an ongoing legal case against one teacher.
Gladwin Superintendent Rick Seebeck could not comment on his district’s current case, but said he believes tenure for public school teachers needs to be reformed.
“What other job on the planet affords employees with the level of job security where whatever mistakes you make, you cannot be dismissed by your employer?” asked Seebeck. “(The tenure process) is simply crazy.”
The attorney who handles tenure cases for Dearborn Public Schools told Michigan Capitol Confidential that his district does a cost-benefit analysis of every tenured employee that they hope to remove; Dearborn even has a chart projecting the expenses. This means that the district has paid several hundred thousand dollars in severance agreements to remove teachers, but saved money by not going through the costly tenure process.
Seebeck believes some districts often have to make a difficult financial decision regarding the removal of tenured educators. “The cost is definitely a factor,” said Seebeck. “But I would argue that most boards aren’t necessarily considering that. … (They) make a decision based on what is right.”
“What is important right now is what is important for our community.”
Michigan Capitol Confidential has sent Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests to every public school district in the state regarding their tenure-related costs for the past few years. This information was recovered as part of that request.