Adams 12 Teachers Fired for Alleged Theft Resurrects Tenure Reform Debate

On Monday night, Denver CBS4 investigator Rick Sallinger broke a story about Adams 12 dismissing two teachers for allegedly bilking thousands of dollars in PTO funds that were supposed to go for student trips. I never like to see such a story as the one featured in the 3-minute video. Interviewed by Sallinger, school board president Mark Clark made a great point:

We hold our kids accountable. We have them expelled or suspended for their behavior. I think the same rules apply for everybody.

The husband-and-wife educator duo look to be in hot water. According to the CBS4 report, the decision to pursue firing Johnny and Pamela Trujillo followed an internal district audit. I’m not able to comment on the specifics of the case to presume anyone’s guilt, but if further investigation confirms the truth of the serious charges, it also reflects on an important policy: teacher tenure (aka “due process”).

In our state tenure reform is still a live issue, with some of the best reasons articulated by Dr. Marcus Winters in his April 12 Independence Institute talk on Teachers Matter. After three years, Colorado teachers automatically acquire a special property right to their job. Eventually, a 2010 state law will tie earning the right to three years of demonstrated effectiveness in the classroom. But even if SB 191 had taken effect by now, it wouldn’t affect a case like the one taking place in Adams 12.

I was left with a few questions after watching the CBS4 investigative report, such as: Is the union representing the accused teachers? How much has the district spent, and how much does it expect to spend, in legal fees to prosecute the dismissal? How many more appeals remain, and how long before the issue will be settled?

Notable past cases in Colorado show that it easily can cost more than $100,000 to remove a tenured teacher and take several years to reach an outcome. Adams 12 officials must believe they have a strong case, because that’s not money and time to be taken lightly.

On a related note, Ed News Colorado reports a different kind of investigation — this one requested of the state department of education by Denver Public Schools — to determine whether two schools cheated on state tests to get their good results. I certainly hope it turns out not to be true. Most educators have a lot of integrity, but a few bad apples can spoil a lot.

Anyway, as the case regarding Beach Court Elementary and Hallett Fundamental Academy unfolds, please take into advisement my comments from last year’s Atlanta scandal about a “predictable overreaction.”