Replacement required before teachers can resign in June, July, AJUSD board decides

Apache Junction Unified School District board members Cami Garcia and Christa Rizzi at a recent board meeting. (Independent Newsmedia/Arianna Grainey)

Apache Junction Unified School District teachers who resign in June and July after signing contracts to work the next fiscal year will not be released unless a replacement employee is found, the governing board decided Tuesday.

“If there’s an individual who comes in tomorrow and says that they would like to resign for the ‘18-19 school year – that ‘Yes, I signed the contract. I’m supposed to be at Cactus Canyon in the English department but now I want to go somewhere else’ – the recommendation based on this proposal is that we have to find a suitable candidate to fill that position. Then we would release you from the contract,” Dr. Krista Anderson, AJUSD superintendent, said at the June 12 governing board meeting.

Teachers released from their contracts would also pay tiered liquidated damages of up to $2,500, officials said.

Revised certified staff tiered contract release guidelines were approved 5-0 on June 12. Voting yes were AJUSD Governing Board President Jodi Ehrlich, Vice-President Dena Kimble and members Mike Weaver, Cami Garcia and Christa Rizzi.

Mrs. Rizzi questioned why the rules were being changed when many teachers had already signed contracts to work for the 2018-19 fiscal year.

“To me it feels like we’re changing the rules after the contracts went out. There were contracts that were signed and now we’re changing that,” Mrs. Rizzi said.

“I think I can support it better if it was at the beginning or the end of the contract signing,” she said.

“If you’ve signed a contract for the ‘18-19 year, this would impact those people because the governing board has the purview to determine whether or not they’re going to release someone,” AJUSD Assistant Superintendent Jennifer Cruz said at the meeting.

“Some of our teaching force are shopping around. They are under contract. They signed a contract, they agreed that they would work with our kiddos for next year and they are choosing to go to other districts and see how much more money they can potentially make in another space and it’s getting exceedingly expensive for us to hire replacements,” Dr. Cruz said.

“So what we’re offering is that we will in good faith absolutely pursue looking for a replacement,” she said.

“We want faculty to be here who want to be with us, but on the other hand it is getting harder and harder as the first day of teachers reporting (approaches) to get new staff members,” Dr. Cruz said.

New teachers are to report July 16-18 and all teachers July 19-23 before the first day of school, July 24, according to the 2018-19 calendar at the school district’s website, https://www.ajusd.org/Page/8038.

In August the board voted 5-0 that school district administrators, instead of the elected school board, would initially decide if teachers and other staff members would be fined liquidated damages to be released from their contracts.

Only if an employee disagreed with the decision would the school board discuss it in a closed-door executive session and vote in an open meeting, the governing board decided in August.

Certified-employee tiered contract release guidelines approved in August were:

  • $500 in liquidated damages if asking to leave in January-March (for upcoming school year).
  • $1,000 in liquidated damages if asking to leave April-May (for upcoming school year).
  • $1,250 in liquidated damages if asking to leave in June.
  • $1,500 in liquidated damages if asking to leave to leave in July.
  • No release if asking once the fall semester has started, but $2,500 in liquidated damages and release if mutually agree upon.
  • No release if asking once the spring semester has started, but $2,500 in liquidated damages and release if mutually agree upon.

“What we are recommending changing is for June and July, that we would not release individuals from contracts unless we found somebody to come in to fill that spot,” Dr. Anderson said at a May 31 AJUSD Governing Board work session, according to the video of the meeting.

“We know that there are hardships and other things that might happen that we would have opportunities to look at, but because of our state-wide teacher shortage and salary discrepancy that we have within our school district, we are asking for this change,” she said.

Editor Richard Dyer can be reached at rdyer@newszap.com

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