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Cleveland Schools Chief Denounces Seniority Rules

Last month, the Cleveland school board voted to lay off 546 of its 3,800 teachers at the end of this school year.

Those layoffs will be by seniority, as mandated by Ohio law - meaning the district is forced to keep older, generally more expensive teachers on the payroll - while younger, lower-paid teachers will be let go.

Schools CEO Eugene Sanders believes that system has to change.

"Seniority is not the way to address any organizational effectiveness when you are reducing staff. If we're gonna have to reduce staff, let's do it based on achievement, performance, accountability.... these are the issues for the 21st century."}

And when Sound of Ideas host Dan Moulthrop pressed Sanders on whether he would specifically like to see Ohio's seniority law abolished, he eventually confirmed it.

"We need to have a situation like any good business in the USA, where we judge people on the basis of their performance and outcome. (DAN MOULTHROP) I'm going to cut to that sounds like a "Yes". (SANDERS) That would be a 'Yes'."

Teachers Union President David Quolke doesn't defend the seniority system, but he says focusing on it is a distraction.

"The whole notion of seniority is to devalue the experience teachers bring to the table. Listen, the reality is we have phenomenal teachers... we also have teachers who struggle along that spectrum. The issue around seniority is the fact that people are using that notion to kind of de-emphasize the impact of layoffs."

Dr. Sanders' transformation program was also a point of contention. Quolke says teachers need a stronger voice in planning change, and charges the schools with not trying hard enough to reduce teacher layoffs by lessening the administrative staff.

Contract talks, still with no mediator, are being held just two days a week.
Rick Jackson, 90.3

Rick Jackson is a senior host and producer at Ideastream Public Media. He hosts the "Sound of Ideas" on WKSU and "NewsDepth" on WVIZ.