One more amazing tale of a good teacher wronged

Given the lack of wisdom we’ve seen in too many of the positions taken by Schools Superintendent Mark Rendell the past 2 1/2 years, I shouldn’t be at all surprised to find him on the wrong side of another issue.

But I am.

I’m surprised that even Rendell would oppose paying one of our most-experienced, most-effective high school teachers at the rate she deserves, based on her impressive evaluations and 30-plus years in the classroom.

I’m surprised that an administrator who publicly claims to place so much value in recruiting and retaining quality educators wouldn’t eagerly embrace the opportunity to correct an obvious injustice and properly compensate Martha Rubio, who, because of a contractual technicality that affects only her, continues to be paid $20,000 less per year than she should be.

I’m surprised because this is such an easy fix – and, surely, Rendell knows that.

There is no down side to compensating this Vero Beach High School reading teacher for all her years of service and paying her what any other similarly experienced educator in the district would earn.

To do so would not violate any district policy. Neither would it set any precedent, because no other teacher in the district finds herself in Rubio’s situation.  It certainly would not break the budget.  The amount at stake is chump change for a district that wastes hundreds of thousands of dollars defending bad decisions.

Simply put: There is no good reason to not do the right thing.

“With my master’s degree and 30-plus years of experience, I should be making $68,000 to $69,000,” Rubio said. “Instead, I’m making $47,000, getting credit for only 13 years. That’s a big difference.

“It’s caused a lot of financial hardship and stress,” she added. “All I can do now is wait and hope the School Board will do something.”

Liz Cannon, president of the local teachers’ union, is representing Rubio and has taken her case to the district – initially to Bruce Green, the assistant superintendent for human resources, and then the School Board.

In a recent text message to Rubio, Cannon said Green has informed her Rendell would not sign off on a memorandum of understanding that would resolve the matter in her favor, but that Green would put the matter before the School Board, probably during an “executive session” at next week’s meeting.

“He is trying for you,” Cannon wrote to Rubio, “but the decision is not in his hands.”

Ultimately, the decision rests with the School Board, which will act on a recommendation from Rendell, who has communicated with the union on this issue only through Green.

“And he has not provided a reason for his decision,” Cannon told me.

So what, exactly, is the problem?

Rubio retired from teaching in 2012, when she and her husband, Miguel, went into private business. Two years later, she decided to return to the classroom.

Her timing was terrible.

She was offered a full-time teaching position at Vero Beach High School, but when she went to sign the contract, she was informed by then-Assistant Superintendent William Fritz that the district had changed its policy.

“He told me I would get credit for only 10 years of experience, not the 33 years I had worked,” Rubio said. “Apparently, the district didn’t want people double-dipping – collecting on their retirement and getting paid to teach.

“I was told there was nothing I could do about it, and I needed the job, so I took it.”

The next year, however, the district and teachers’ union negotiated a new 2015-18 Collective Bargaining Agreement, which gave newly-hired teachers pay-scale credit for all their years of experience.

That remains the policy today – for everyone but Rubio.

That’s because the agreement included a caveat: “Years of experience will be used for initial placement only.”

Thus, Rubio has been bound by the experience-compensation limit in effect when she returned to teaching in 2014, even though the words “initial placement” are nowhere to be found in the annual contracts she signed in 2015 and 2016.

If you include her service from 2014 through 2016, Rubio currently gets credit for only 13 of the 36 years she has worked as an educator. By her calculations, not being fully compensated for her teaching experience already has cost her $70,000.

“Unfortunately for Mrs. Rubio,” Cannon told the School Board at its October meeting, “since she was hired one year prior to the change in language . . . she was placed at 10 years experience, making significantly less than any teacher hired in 2015 and beyond with the same experience.”

How, in any way, is that fair?

Better yet: Why wasn’t this matter resolved two months ago, when Cannon first brought it to Green’s attention?

Not only has Rubio earned “highly effective” or “exemplary” ratings from the district each of the past three years, but she also has been recognized by the state as a “high-impact teacher.”

Yet it wasn’t until Rubio was approached in August about joining the union that she began her push for the pay to which she is entitled.

“They asked me to join and I said, ‘No, you don’t really do anything to help teachers,’ ” Rubio said.  “They said, ‘What’s your problem?’ So I told them.”

Since then, Cannon has tenaciously pursued the matter – and continues to do so. She recently sent to Green a memorandum of understanding seeking to remove the “initial placement” clause from the CBA, but she told Rubio that Rendell refused.

When she addressed the School Board last month, Cannon smartly used Rendell’s own words to make her case, citing a district press release in which he was quoted as saying:

“We cannot thank these teachers enough for their hard work and dedication. They’re exemplary educators, and we are very fortunate to have them in our classrooms. Our students are better every day because of them.”

She also has discussed with Rubio the option of resigning, then being rehired the next day under the new policy, which would give her full credit – and her rightful compensation – for her years of experience in the classroom and service to our community.

But Cannon wisely wants assurances from Green that Rubio would be rehired and there would be no future retribution taken against a devoted teacher who simply wants to be on the same scale as anyone else with her education and experience.

“I’m worried they wouldn’t rehire me, or tell me that I don’t have a job next year,” Rubio said, adding that she has not heard from Rendell or Green directly, only through communications with Cannon.

“There’s an open position for a reading teacher at the high school, and I’m also certified to teach English, but we’re on annual contracts, so you never know,” she continued. “I’m afraid they’ll just get rid of me.

“I need the job, but I also need to make more money.”

It would be a disgrace for this district to lose a teacher of Rubio’s qualifications and standing to a county to our immediate north or south, solely because someone made another wrongheaded decision.

The real shame, though, would be finding out that the members of our elected School Board lacked the wisdom, principles and compassion to step in and do what everyone knows is right.

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