Teachers protested last week’s dismissal of 23 support staff and teachers outside the Legislature in Frederiksted Thursday as inside, Education Commissioner LaVerne Terry acknowledged to senators some dismissals violated union contract notice requirements. Otherwise, Terry defended how and why they were done.
"We followed procedures for the entire territory, which in this case did not adhere to the AFT (American Federation of Teachers) requirements," Terry testified, when Sen. Janette Millin-Young asked if the dismissed teachers were given 30 days notice, as the contract specifies.
"That fact has been acknowledged and will have to be addressed," Terry said to the senators in the Committee on Education, Youth and Culture.
Otherwise, all the dismissals were in accord with the AFT’s collective bargaining agreement, and were strictly for financial, not performance-related, reasons, she said. Senators asked Terry and other Education officials about several rumors and allegations concerning the dismissals.
Dayna Clendinen, director of human resources for Education, testified that a total of 23 department employees were dismissed – slightly less than the 25 initially reported by the department. Of those dismissed, 13 were teachers.
The teachers protesting outside objected to the manner of the dismissals and to dismissing educators at all. Some also questioned whether the dismissals could have been avoided.
"I believe the layoffs would not have been necessary if the government had taken steps to cut government expenses," said music teacher Sherry Hotter, pointing to the continued use of government cell phones, government vehicles, and the fact the Legislature’s budget remained unchanged, at $20 million, even as every other agency experienced significant cuts.
As the hearing wore on and the sun set, the protesting teachers moved into the Legislature to sit in the audience during the hearing.
Peppered with questions from the senators, Terry and her staff said they followed procedures established by the Division of Personnel, making cuts the department was directed to make. The individuals were selected based upon seniority, as required by several of the contracts, but also on educational needs, as allowed in the teachers’ contract, she said.
The number of dismissals would have been larger but many teachers and staff had taken advantage of retirement incentives this year, Terry said.
She dispelled several rumors and claims about how the dismissals were done, saying the dismissals were all financial and not performance based, no one was dismissed in front of their class and no one was escorted off school property by police or otherwise.
St. Croix Federation of Teachers President James Howell disputed the last point.
"In some instances, teachers were asked “can I have your keys and computer?” and were asked to leave the building, and no one can say this didn’t happen," Howell testified.
St. Croix Educational Administrators Association President Rosa White argued the one member of their managerial union to be dismissed should not have been, because the person had 47 years of experience, and the contract stipulated that members with the least experience will be affected first.
No votes or actions were taken regarding the layoffs. The committee also discussed and passed several bills Thursday. Details in "V.I. Youth Commission May Return" in related links below.