With lots of openings, Bibb school system using drafts to fill vacancies

On a recent afternoon at the Bibb County school board office, a group of principals and administrators sat around a conference table, set to take part in a draft.

Just as the National Football League has its ways of evaluating players before its draft, the school district accepted resumes in April for more than 200 open, certified positions, going through a lengthy interview process to cull names from a list. From there, principals or administrators from each school with an opening then gather together to draft a candidate to fill that school’s open job.

At this particular draft, representatives of four schools -- Westside High and Union, Taylor and Alexander II elementary schools -- were vying to fill school counselor jobs from a list of seven candidates.

Shannon Dotsikas, coordinator of employment services for the school district, led the session, listing the candidates’ strengths as well as the areas in which they needed to improve.

One candidate had strong organizational skills but not a lot of experience as a counselor. A second candidate had plenty of experience as a counselor, but wasn’t familiar with Bibb County’s strategic initiatives. Another candidate had plenty of experience at the middle and high school levels, but none with an elementary school.

Westside, by virtue of its getting School Improvement Grant proceeds, got the top pick. But since Westside is now without a principal and three assistant principals, Tanzy Kilcrease, an assistant superintendent of zone, made that school’s pick.

The draft process represents a marked change in the hiring process for the school district. In previous years, administrators themselves at each school hired certified staff members -- teachers and counselors, for example -- based on the school’s needs.

But the new policy makes hirings a centralized process. Potential new employees, as well as those now in the school district who are trying to move into a different position, are put into a general pool of candidates, which is then whittled down.

Emanuel Frazier, principal of Union Elementary, delayed his vacation to participate in the recent draft, even though he wasn’t under contract himself the day he participated. He said the new system allows administrators to get feedback from their colleagues about the various candidates.

“In the past, this was done with the leadership team at each school,” he said. “But now, you can get the viewpoints of other administrators. It’s really beneficial for me to have them as part of it.”

Dotsikas said there had been four drafts already, with at least six, maybe more, to be held in the coming weeks.

Donald Porter, the spokesman for the Bibb County school district, said the system expects to have all of its open teaching positions filled by the time teachers report Aug. 6. Classes begin Aug. 13.

“Every classroom in Bibb County will have a highly qualified teacher when school opens,” he said, adding later, “We’re working overtime to make this happen. Our (human resources) department has no reservations about making this happen. There’s a lot of school systems that are cutting back, meaning there’s a bigger pool of teachers out there.”

Numbers difficult to gauge

With roughly 224 open positions -- including seven school principals -- to fill once this school year ended, the school system has a lot of work on its hands, but Porter said there are actually fewer certified positions to fill for the upcoming year than there were for the 2010-2011 school year, when there were 347 vacancies in certified positions.

It’s difficult to make an apples-to-apples comparison between this year and last, however, since Porter noted that the number of openings changes frequently. In recent weeks, The Telegraph obtained a list of all vacancies for the coming academic year from the central office, but the numbers did not always match those obtained from individual schools.

“This is an ever-evolving process and the numbers change continually,” Porter wrote in response to a Telegraph e-mail. “Therefore, to address this request now would necessitate reallocating personnel and resources for information that would change regularly. Unfortunately, we are unable to do (so) at this time.”

There are differences in the number of openings that may -- or may not be -- explained by the timing of when someone leaves. For example, the central office data showed that 15 certified employees were leaving Central High School after the just-concluded school year. After the school year ended, however, there were 20 jobs to fill, according to the school, including seven math teachers, traditionally one of the most difficult positions to hire for.

And there were other discrepancies as well.

Westside High, the school with the largest number of vacancies in the system, had 36.5 open positions, according to the central office data. But the school said there were more than 40 openings at one point.

As part of cost-cutting moves, the district is freezing some classified positions and switching other ones around.

Besides the teachers leaving Bibb County schools -- some of whom rejected the contract they were offered -- the system is cutting 41.5 clerks, custodians, registrars and paraprofessionals, according to budget documents. In all, 64.5 paraprofessional positions will now be funded with federal dollars.

The district will be gaining a net of just over 55 system level employees. Of that number, 20.5 positions will be paid for with general fund dollars that were not previously.

While the system has 6.5 fewer warehouse and maintenance employees and one fewer payroll clerk, the system has added an assistant to the superintendent, a board clerk, a net six new positions in the campus police department, 12.5 bus drivers and other transportation workers, a chief legal counsel, a communications technician, an English for Speakers of Other Languages coordinator, and other positions.

The budget documents show 13 additional positions at the new Welcome Center: A parent education coordinator, five enrollment/registrar clerks, one enrollment/registrar supervisor, three parent advocates, one parent specialist/tracker, one scheduling coordinator and one secretary to the director.

Lack of discipline is recurring theme

Bibb County school board member Gary Bechtel expressed concern recently that because contract offers to Bibb teachers for next school year went out later than usual, there may not be enough time to fill every position before the start of school Aug. 13.

“The numbers (of vacancies) seem pretty high,” he said. “I’ve heard a lot of rumors that (the number of teachers leaving) is pretty large.”

Bechtel said he’s talked to and heard from many educators in the school system who are frustrated or concerned about their jobs.

“There’s a lot of uncertainty,” he said. “The climate is not conducive to what they want to work in. A lot of them are going elsewhere or retiring early.”

The Telegraph contacted several teachers and administrators who have left the school system either through retirement or some other reason, but most would not speak on the record, citing concerns over future employment.

One teacher at a Bibb County middle school -- who is leaving the system for another teaching job outside Bibb -- summed up the situation for many.

“The thing is, there are hundreds of teachers (in the Bibb County school system) who are looking for jobs, but they can’t find something,” he said. “With this economy, there are no openings.”

The teacher cited the lack of discipline in the school system as one of the reasons he chose to leave.

“There’s no discipline,” he said. “We’re told not to write children up for offenses. I’ve had kids tell me to my face, ‘You can’t write me up.’ ”

Angel Caldwell, a former teacher at Weaver Middle School who left in September to join the Ombudsman program, lost that job when the school system eliminated the program. Caldwell said she made the switch because of discipline issues at her former school.

“It had to do a lot with what’s going on,” she said. “You were told, ‘Don’t send a student to the office. ... You don’t have discipline of the classroom.’ ”

She said other teachers shared her concerns.

“I was talking to one teacher, and she had been shoved into a wall,” Caldwell said. “It’s not safe. Someone is going to get hurt.”

Lisa DeWees, president of Howard High School’s Parent Teacher Student Organization, said several teachers who have left Bibb schools told her they felt unsafe.

“Teachers feel powerless,” she said. “If you can’t be supported by the administration, where do you go?”

“I hate to see what looks like a mass exodus,” DeWees said. “I feel like it’s going to get worse before it gets better.”

Superintendent Romain Dallemand said he’s aware of safety concerns in the school system, which is why the district hired the company Safe Havens International to evaluate the schools and come up with a plan to make them safer.

“Throughout last year when I visited each school, discipline was one of the top individual concerns,” Dallemand said, adding that no one has discussed with him their leaving the district because of safety issues.

“It is one of my top concerns as well. We’re putting things in place that address safety and security. ... We’re putting together three alternative schools, we’re collaborating with the Juvenile Court.

“We are going to address security,” he said. “I’m a father with two children in the school system myself.”

Staff writer Andrea Castillo contributed to this report.