What to do when you just can't quit

District's refusal of teacher's resignation raises questions

Sept. 6, 2011

Greenfield - Young Greenfield High School math teacher Tim Owen is back in the classroom, but he doesn't want to be.

The Greenfield School Board won't let him quit and take a job in the Elmbrook School District.

"I understand it's hard to find math teachers," Owen said to the board at a recent meeting when he asked it to reconsider not accepting his resignation.

"How he's being held to a contract is a mystery," said colleague Margaret Derr. "We do not have contracts anymore."

Until this year, teachers negotiated a master contract and then signed letters of intent in April that they wanted to come back in the fall for the following year. Teachers never had an individual employment contract, said Doug Perry, president of the Greenfield Education Association

Intent interpretation

But Stuart Wilke, community relations director for the schools, said that school officials view the letters of intent as sufficient to bind teachers to the district, he said.

Without that letter of intent, teachers could quit at any time they chose, for whatever reason, he said. That could create chaos for the district.

Likewise, teachers could also suffer if districts felt free to "shop" all summer for a better teacher, Wilke said. Then districts could literally decide the week before school that they wanted to hire somebody else.

"I don't think I would be going out on a limb by stating that the vast majority of our teachers believe that when they sign their letters of intent to renew their contract, they are working under an individual teacher employment contract," Wilke said.

A legal argument?

"I never did," Perry said. "I never thought so, but that's their argument."

The teachers have taken the question of how binding letters of intent are to attorneys for the state teachers union, the Wisconsin Education Association Council, Perry said.

It is a slippery slope, though, he saidin that teachers generally want the district to hold their jobs for them.

Officials' refusal to accept Owen's resignation may indeed have had to do with how hard it is to find a replacement, Perry said.

Only a week after Owen's resignation was turned down, the board accepted the resignation of a special education teacher, Perry said. It has accepted resignations in August many times before, he said.

"The district is not happy and it hurts stability, but they let them go," he said. And teachers who did that paid a $2,000 fine to the district as was called for in the former master contract and now in the new employee handbook.

But there may be negotiations in the works that will bring a satisfactory conclusion, Perry said.

In the meantime, "Tim will do a great job. That's just his nature," he said.

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