By Sally Absher

After deferring it for several months, the KCS Board of Education spent considerable time during both their work session and regular monthly meeting last week discussing revisions to Policy GBG, “Non-Tenure,” only to reject the first reading of revisions proposed by the Law Department and further revised by Board Chairman Doug Harris.

The policy on non-tenure became an issue last May after teachers, including former Copper Ridge Kindergarten teacher Christina Graham, publicly stated they had been non-renewed despite satisfactory evaluation scores, and had been given no reason or explanation for their non-renewal.

Policy GBG states, in part, “Non-tenured teachers are subject to the same rules and regulations and are entitled to the privileges of employment enjoyed by tenured teachers except that they have no claim upon continuing employment or tenure protections.”

Tenure, despite public perception, does not guarantee “a job for life.” Rather, it simply guarantees due process – if a teacher is terminated, a reason must be given and an appeals process shall be available.

The current Policy further states that “… If the Director of Schools determines not to renew the contract of a non-tenured teacher, written notice of non-renewal shall be delivered to the employee so that it will be received by the employee prior to June 15…”

This statement is not compliant with TCA 49-5-409(b) as amended by Public Chapter No. 232 (2015), which states notice of non-renewal must be received within 5 business days of the last instructional day of the school year.

The BOE had no issue with amending the policy to bring it into compliance with state law. They also agreed that no teacher should ever be “blindsided” by a non-renewal without knowing the reason why.

Where the board disagreed, however, was on whether or not to exercise the powers given the local BOE to affirm or deny the dismissals via Tennessee Code Annotated §49-2-203(b)(8).

The Law Department version added language requiring the Director of Schools to create administrative procedures; the Board to be notified of the non-renewals and to exercise its powers to affirm or review dismissals; and that written notice be given to non-renewed teachers within 5 days of the last day of school.

Harris’ revision removed wording that would allow members to affirm or review dismissals.

Patti Bounds asked if the Board was relinquishing their authority to oversee non-renewals per Tennessee law. County Law Director Bud Armstrong explained the Board still has the power to review appeals, whether or not it is in the policy. It takes a motion and 5 votes of the BOE.

Several Board members voiced concerns about receiving notification at a Board meeting, because as an agenda item, this would make the list of non-renewed teachers public.

Karen Carson suggested the BOE was trying to fix a procedural problem with a rewrite of the policy. She said previous law directors had advised that the employee not be given a reason. She insisted “non-renewal is not a termination. It is not firing.”

But Amber Rountree  disagreed, stating that for all intents and purpose, if a teacher is non-renewed, their career is over. “When you’re non-renewed, that question (Have you ever been non-renewed) is on every single application for every school district I or folks that I know have applied to,” she said, adding, “I want to make sure everyone understands what the reality of a nonrenewal is,” and begged the Board to “exhibit compassion.”

Ultimately the revised version of Policy GBG failed to pass, with a vote of 5-3. Some Board members felt the revisions went too far, while others felt they didn’t go far enough. Voting no were Gloria Deathridge, Carson, Bounds, Mike McMillan, and Rountree.