After staff cuts last year that left hundreds of educators scrambling to find new jobs, one former Shelby County Schools teacher is close to losing her home. Another has depleted her savings after a summer of job searching.
“I honestly do not know what I’m going to do,” said Betty Smith. She worked at Cypress Middle, which was one of the 10 schools closed by the district at the end of the 2013-14 academic year. Smith has worked in education for 28 years in Tennessee and three years in Mississippi. She’s certified to teach math and music, and as a guidance counselor.
“I think I’ve applied to more than 100 positions,” said Smith, who was assigned to Cypress after her previous school, White’s Chapel Elementary, closed last year. She has not received a call back from any.
The Memphis-Shelby County Education Association filed a lawsuit on August 4 on behalf of tenured teachers such as Smith, whose positions have been cut and who have not found new jobs in the district. The association contends that those teachers should be hired for teaching jobs before new or non-tenured candidates. This is the second lawsuit the association has filed on behalf of teachers from schools that have closed.
In a change from previous years, Shelby County Schools is not assigning teachers to particular schools or jobs. Instead, it has adopted a hiring policy known as mutual consent, which means that teachers are selected by principals by jobs they apply for rather than placed by the district in a given school.
All of the displaced teachers are on a list the district is referring to as its “reemployment list,” which consisted of those who were displaced by school closings or staff cuts. District principals were encouraged to consider them as candidates.
The district’s site still lists dozens of teaching jobs as open. Hundreds whose jobs were initially cut have found new positions in the district. Others may have found employment in charter schools, in one of the state-run Achievement School District’s schools, or in one of the six new suburban school systems in the county.
But some are still searching for jobs in Shelby County Schools. Today, the association invited several teachers who had not yet found positions to share their experiences with local media. Keith Williams, the association’s president, said litigation is one recourse for the teachers, but he also encouraged them to make their stories and frustrations public.
“I can’t live off $275 a week with unemployment, if I get it,” said Shanda Hunt, who worked at Lanier Middle, which closed in May. “My best friend filled up my tank with gas and gave me $20. It’s odd being at home. I’m bored and I’m not able to do all the things I need to do for my son. I’ve been a good teacher and I’m trying to stay optimistic.”
Hunt worries the pool of teachers looking for jobs will grow once the district receives its first school-by-school enrollment figures.
“What happens then? Some more teachers might lose their positions. And then there are even more teachers out there looking at the same positions,” Hunt said.
Shelby County Schools did not immediately respond to requests for comment about the new lawsuit on Friday afternoon.
Earlier this summer, the district declined to comment on the previous lawsuit involving teachers from closed schools.