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Tempers boil over at Memphis City Schools job fair: Surplus teachers claim age discrimination

Dennis Paden Comments:

For the record, I have no personal beef with young teachers in the Teach For America program. What offends me is our already depressed labor market being flooded by cheap labor under the false banner of "for the sake of the children."

The truth is when Dr. Cash signed on with Bill Gates and the Race-To-The-Top program (yes, they are virtually the same thing) he made a tacit deal with the Teach For America folks.

Memphians, you have lost control of your local schools. Those calling the shots now are Arne Duncan and his consortium of rich friends who run think tanks funded by your tax dollars and programs like Teach For America. One ready example. For the fee of 100 million dollars, Bill Gates, who has never worked a day in public education, is able to dictate public policy.

. More.

There is little difference between what is happening in public education now and what happened in the Iraq war when defense contractors were allowed to call too many of the shots. In effect Bill Gates is now the "Halliburton" of education. [emphasis added]

That is the big picture. For now, I will focus on the matter that this greater folly has brought my way in the form of appealing to the EEOC regarding age discrimination.

Ohanian Comment: Remember: Bill and Melinda Gates insist that teacher experience is worth nothing. Would anyone give a fig about their opinion on education if they weren't filthy rich?

Online Poll
What grade would you give Memphis City Schools for the way it has handled reassignments for displaced teachers?
A 4%
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C 5%
D 8%
F 81%

By Jane Roberts

Police were called to calm a disturbance at a Memphis City Schools job fair Friday when about 70 experienced teachers were told there were no openings.

"When I heard that, I turned around and told all the teachers in the auditorium that we need to file a class-action suit," said Dennis Paden, 54, an 18-year classroom veteran with a master's degree.

"Most of the teachers, if not all, were over 50. Several were in wheelchairs. It's a classic case of age discrimination," said Paden, who was told to leave the fair at American Way Middle because he was causing a disturbance and being belligerent.

District spokesman Quintin Taylor said officers asked Williams to lower his voice after he had earlier refused. No one was arrested.

Teachers said the flare-up reflects anger over changes that allow the district to hire new teachers over senior staff to help meet "curriculum needs."

Before the job fair, a record 154 city school teachers were on the extra or "surplus" list, including 76 added this week based on drops in enrollment.

Eighty-one found jobs at the fair that MCS holds several times a year to match displaced teachers with principals looking to hire. The 73 still standing will be assigned other jobs in the district at their current pay until permanent placements are found.

Keith Williams, president of the Memphis Education Association, says it's possible teachers placed Friday will be bumped when seniority rules kick in.

He says the district cannot afford to pay teachers their full salaries to decorate bulletin boards and monitor playgrounds. "At some point, someone is going to have go home," he said.

Many principals, including Kongsouly Jones at Peabody Elementary, came early for the best choice.

Shortly after 9:30 a.m. she'd found and hired several new teachers. "It worked out great. I found what I wanted."

By midmorning Sharpe Elementary principal Gary Zimmerman still needed a lead math teacher.

"When they hear that it's fifth-grade math, they're not interested. People prefer the younger children."

Paden interviewed for a sixth-grade teaching job at Kate Bond Middle. He was not hired because he has no experience with middle school students.

Since he was surplussed last spring from the history department at Manassas High, he's been teaching business courses, which he is not certified to teach, at Frayser High.

"Last week, they told me maybe I'd be teaching French next week. I don't know the first thing about French."

District officials did not return calls for this story, but they have repeatedly said that in order to improve education levels in Memphis they must hire the most talented teachers and end the practice of moving poor-performing teachers from school to school because they are protected by union seniority rules.

In research last December by the Tennessee Higher Education Commission, Teach For America beat the state's colleges of education, with the exception of Vanderbilt, for the effectiveness of its teacher training programs.

Of the 210 teachers on the surplus list in mid-July, at least 25 percent were among the district's poorest-performing teachers, based on district analysis of their students' achievement.

District leaders also say some surplus teachers are so unmotivated to find work that they don't take advantage of the district's help.

Williams denies that, saying many have found other jobs or gave up and retired.

Of the 154 teachers eligible to attend Friday's fair, fewer than 100 registered, said Sheila Redick, spokeswoman for MCS teacher hiring office STARS.

Paden, who has been on the surplus list since summer, registered an age discrimination complaint Friday with Equal Opportunity Commission.

"I've been with this system 18 years. I have a master's degree in my subject area. I taught at the University of Memphis for 15 years.

"And now there is no place that wants to hire me as a history teacher in the city schools? That is absolutely absurd. I have outstanding evaluations everywhere I have been."

As a result of the teacher shuffling, all sections of physics at Ridgeway High were dissolved this week, said 13-year chemistry teacher Talya Brown.

She was not placed Friday because there were no chemistry openings at the fair, and has no idea where she is supposed to report to work Monday.

Students were told Friday, a week before the quarter ends, that physics classes would no longer meet.

They will receive no credit for the partial class, Ridgeway officials said.

— Jane Roberts
Memphis Commercial Appeal





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