March 27, 2013

ON CAMPUS: Privacy or piracy? No way to know

Paid leave privacy concerns seal lips even when there may be good things to say or widespread worries to quell.

Today's blog is about teachers, administrators and paid leave. But mostly it's about frustration we all have felt facing a brick wall smack across the path of what we see as common sense and reasonableness.

That's a very one-sided assessment, of course. But then, there's only one side of the brick wall to see. What lies beyond is encoded, redacted, restricted or maybe just empty air. No way to know; no way to be fair.

Reasonable people expect their privacy to be respected. But reasonable people also expect to be told if school teachers or administrators are doing something wrong.

Teachers have job protections those working outside of education do not enjoy. When a teacher is caught misbehaving paid leave generally follows, not a straight bounce to the curb. Now, there are undoubtedly some good reasons for giving paid leave that have nothing to do with being a lech, a thief or a disreputable cur.

But no one can say what they are, Modesto City Schools head of human resources Craig Rydquist says.

I asked. The response to my California Public Records Act request was that from January 2012 through February 2013, nine teachers were placed on paid administrative leave for a total of 541 days and $239,858.79.

But paid leaves are listed, with names, in the agenda of every Modesto City Schools Board meeting. Pull together those listed in 2012 and it adds up to 110 teachers and administrators, granted 1,230 weeks of paid leave. Ballpark figure: $2 million spent for folks to stay home in one year.

How could the district spend $2 million and not be obliged to give a reason, even a potential reason, even an accurate accounting?

The spreadsheet does not include Brad Keith, a teacher who was on leave for years pending resolution of a criminal charge from firing a gun during a dispute with a neighbor. That was in prior year's agendas. Nor does it include Elliott Principal Julie Beebe, put on paid leave in January 2013. Beebe was one of four Modesto principals told they would be dismissed at year's end.

It also does not count two Modesto Teachers Association representatives who are on paid leave all year, because the union reimburses the district for wages and benefits, MTA Executive Director Megan Gowans said.

Dividing days by names give an average of 11 weeks per person, far beyond anything in the standard teacher's contract would cover for sick leave, training or other listed options. Four people appear to have been on leave all year. None of the listed names appears in a listing of Stanislaus County criminal cases.

Sent the spreadsheet, the district's response was the same. "The district will not provide records that state the names of the subject teachers. It is our position that such information is exempt and-or privileged from disclosure ... "

That's a brick wall, blocking what I see as a reasonable, common sense path. Many will say that a very one-sided assessment, and it is. But it's the one side I can see.

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