The Madison School Board approved changes to Employee Handbook language Monday night on a 4 to 3 vote over opposition from Madison Teachers Inc. Board members Ali Muldrow, Savion Castro, Ananda Mirilli and Gloria Reyes voted in favor of the change, with Nicki Vander Meulen, Christina Gomez Schmidt and Cris Carusi voting against.
Administrators and board members in support have said the changes will help district efforts to diversify the staff and keep the best teachers in classrooms, rather than simply those with the most experience.
“I went to school here and I never had an African-American teacher,” Muldrow said. “That is something we have to shift through change and through active change.”
MTI and those in opposition expressed concern about the subjectivity of the evaluations, which includes measures of culturally responsive practices, student learning outcomes, foreign language fluency, advanced degrees and seniority. They have pointed to studies that show evaluations can harm Black and brown staff members through bias from the evaluators.
Three people spoke during public appearances against the changes, with another eight submitting written opposition. Three people submitted written support of the changes.
The board’s vote covered language to be included in the Employee Handbook, which can be changed through a board vote without union agreement since Act 10 was enacted a decade ago.
In changing the language, however, the board did not include a new rubric outlining the various weighting of criteria in policy, meaning it can be changed by an “oversight committee” that administrators said will include MTI, teachers and students — but will not require board approval to be changed.
A version of the proposal to change layoff and reassignment criteria was first made public last June, before superintendent Carlton Jenkins had even interviewed for his position. A vote initially planned for that month was delayed to July and then further, with the board asking staff to find “consensus” with MTI.
They did not reach that consensus, though Reyes said there were 20 Handbook Review Committee meetings from October to March, each lasting about 90 minutes, in addition to other meetings with administration and MTI leadership.
Kerry Motoviloff, the project lead for MTI’s MTI-CENTRS work focused on anti-racism, said during public comment that staff need more support and the union wants to be a partner in the district’s anti-racism efforts.
“It is not through surplus and layoff that we’re losing our staff of color,” Motoviloff said. “It is through lack of support and lack of feeling belonging.”
YWCA of Madison CEO Vanessa McDowell was among the three writing in support of the changes, calling it “a start in creating an anti-racist school district.”
“We see this as a step in the right direction of not just having seniority as the only factor in these decisions,” McDowell wrote. “We recognize that this is a small step in a very large and complex issue, however we believe it is a good step.”
The board approved putting new language regarding layoffs and surplus reassignments into the Handbook, but it does not include the rubric itself.
With the rubric not in the Handbook, the board will not be required to vote for the weighting of criteria to change. Instead, an “oversight committee” would be consulted on any changes, though such a committee is not referenced in the language.
District general legal counsel Sherry Terrell-Webb said that requiring the board to vote to change the rubric would limit flexibility as they navigate a new system, “if we needed to be nimble and make a shift,” and that the board should focus on the broader policy language.
“We need to look to the difference between policy and practice,” Terrell-Webb said. “Practice is the 'how' behind the policies that the board ratifies.”
Some board members worried that not including the rubric itself in the Handbook would limit the board’s and the public’s input.
“We should have the rules set in the Handbook so they stick,” Vander Meulen said. “Otherwise we just have guidance, we don’t have an actual policy.”
Vander Meulen offered an amendment to add the rubric into the Handbook, but it failed on the same 4-3 vote as the final vote. The board’s student representative Julia Amann, who gets an advisory vote but does not count toward the outcome, wanted to include the rubric in the Handbook and said students she has spoken with have concerns about it as it was outlined for the meeting.
“Most of the students I have talked to don’t like this rubric and I think because the board just signed away all opportunities we might have to address these criteria in the future … I’m not going to be able to support that,” Julia said.
The draft sample guidelines included with Monday’s agenda would evaluate teachers based on five criteria with varied weighting: 40% for culturally responsive practices, 25% for student learning objectives, 20% for seniority, 10% for additional language proficiency and 5% for academic credentials. The reassignment criteria would be weighted with 40% for culturally responsive practices, 25% seniority, 20% additional language proficiency and 15% academic credentials.
Those were changed from what the board discussed earlier this month, when each of seniority, academic credentials and additional language proficiency were at 10% in the layoff rubric, with student learning objectives at 30%.
The rubric breaks down each of the categories with specific criteria and teachers falling into one of four rankings.
A teacher would be rated poorly on the culturally responsive practices metric for being unable to “distinguish the systems and beliefs that may lead to inequitable outcomes for students” or not recognizing “student home culture and language as assets for teaching and learning,” for example. On the other end, teachers would receive a high ranking if they use “cultural competence to adapt instruction to meet the needs of each student” and “actively disrupt racist situations” and intervene with “students at the center.”
The student learning objective portion of the rubric grades teachers on goal setting, summative assessments, progress monitoring, reflection and outcomes.
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