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Wednesday, July 10,2013

Severing with seniority

Lansing School District teacher layoffs will likely no longer be based solely on seniority

by Sam Inglot
Ben Baldwin probably reached the coda of his career as Lansing Everett High School’s band director too early.

After 11 years with the district — where he brought the Everett Marching Band to national prominence — Baldwin was pink-slipped in April because of his lower seniority as a teacher. The job uncertainty was the deciding factor in his leaving Lansing. 

But a state law adopted in 2011 that likely won’t take effect in the district until later this month would have probably kept Baldwin here based on his performance, not his lack of seniority. Moving forward, if Lansing is forced to make layoffs as it was this year — Baldwin, 37, was one of 140 teachers who received pink slips in April for budgetary purposes — seniority won’t be the deciding factor of who goes. The new policy, which will likely be adopted by the Lansing School Board later this month, is based on student achievement and teacher performance.

Getting pink-slipped or laid off is like a heads-up to a teacher that they might not have a job come the start of the new school year. 

District Superintendent Yvonne Caamal Canul said she was surprised and disappointed to hear that Baldwin was leaving. She said the district had “every expectation that he would continue once it was all settled.” 

But because he was pink-slipped, Baldwin didn’t want to risk not being hired back into the district — so he decided to take a job with Davison Community Schools. 

“That was my first time getting pink-slipped. It’s never happened to me before,” he said. “I understand it’s a result of all the changes the district is going through with the elimination of planning periods, but I couldn’t take the risk. And that’s what it really came down to. Even though I was there for 11 years, when you get a pink slip, you have to start looking around.”

If the new system had been in place this year, Baldwin probably wouldn’t have been pink-slipped, said Virginia Acheson, Lansing Schools’ executive director of human relations. Baldwin’s good performance and the fact that he is not easily replaced likely would have prevented it, she said. But because of his seniority in the old system, he was put on notice.

The new law was put into effect in July 2011, but because the district had an existing contract with the teachers’ union, the Lansing Schools Education Association, the law didn’t apply until the contract ended nine days ago. 

The Lansing school board will vote on adopting the policy at its July 18 meeting. The new law will guide the layoff and rehiring process with the hope that good teachers like Baldwin can be kept on board. 

“It’s unfortunate when we lose top-notch educators for any reason, but hopefully this new system will put us in a better position to determine who stays and who goes,” said school board member Peter Spadafore, who also chairs the board’s policy committee. “In an ideal world, we wouldn’t have to be laying off any staff.”

Spadafore said the committee reviewed the policy on Monday and recommended that the full board approve it. 

The policy looks a lot like the language laid out in the state law, Acheson said. Once adopted, the administration will go through the details of how teacher evaluations and student assessments will work. 

Teachers union President Patti Seidl said the old seniority policy isn’t as much to blame for the layoffs as is the state’s consistent funding cuts to public education. But, regardless of what the layoff process is, she wants to make sure the teachers have some say in the procedures. 

“We want it carried out fair and equitably,” she said. “And we’re hoping to come to the table with the administration to see what the policies and procedures are going to be.”

Regardless of what the law is, the Everett Marching Band and the students’ families are upset to see Baldwin go. For 16-year-old Emily Barshaw, a junior in the marching band, losing Baldwin means losing the leader of the program.  

“He was just an amazing leader. I always thought if there was an apocalypse, where people needed a hero or a leader, he would be the person to turn to,” she said. “He seemed to always know what to do. He’s definitely going to be hard to replace. There are a lot of people quitting automatically because he’s leaving. It’s hard to imagine anyone comparing to Mr. Baldwin.”

Baldwin started at Everett in the spring of 2002 after he graduated from Oakland University with a degree in music education. Prior to OU, Baldwin was in the United States Marine Corp Band. He said he brought the Marines’ sense of pride, honor and discipline to the Everett Marching Band. He brought the band to the national stage on several occasions as well as earn top scores at state competitions. In 2005, the band performed at the halftime show of the college football Outback Bowl in Tampa, Fla.; the Chick-fil-A Bowl in Atlanta in 2008 and in 2011 at the Champs Sports Bowl in Orlando, Fla. 

“I love the band dearly and by no means do they have anything to do with me leaving,” Baldwin said. “I wish I could stay, but the circumstances have led to change, and it’s a change I have to make.” 

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