By Dina Martin
Over 40 teachers in Bakersfield will share a total of $1.44 million thanks to a legal settlement that is likely to have statewide implications for school districts that abuse the "temporary" classification of teachers.
Checks of as much as $55,000 were sent to teachers and counselors in the Bakersfield City School District who had been classified as "temporary" employees by the district much longer than they should have, in violation of the state's Education Code.
The settlement culminates a lawsuit that had been decided by the Fifth District Court of Appeal in favor of CTA and the Bakersfield Elementary Teachers Association (BETA), in which the court ruled that the school district had misclassified teachers as temporary who should have been probationary. In some instances, the abuses go back to 1985.
In addition to the money and the legal precedent, the case vastly helped the local teachers in other ways. In all, 109 teachers and 10 counselors were reclassified from temporary to probationary, and the layoffs of 68 probationary teachers were rescinded. Seniority dates for 63 teachers were recalculated, recognizing dates between 1985 and 2002, with most reset between 1997 and 2000. Corrections were also made for several teachers regarding their salary schedule placement and restoration of sick leave credits, including days to be transferred to successive employer districts.
"The settlement has statewide significance because it serves to prevent all school districts from abusing the temporary classification," says Tom Driscoll, the attorney who represented the teachers in the case for CTA.
In the past, school districts claimed they had the discretion to decide on a teacher's classification. The court decision held that credentialing and classification are two different systems. The decision limits the temporary classification in accordance with the Education Code, according to Driscoll.
While many districts commonly misclassify teachers, "Bakersfield was the best manifestation of abuse" that has come forward, according to Driscoll.
"We're proud of BETA and our members who came forward," says BETA President Brad Barnes. "It's a big decision, especially against Bakersfield City School District, which seemed to have been writing its own rules."
Barnes adds that the decision has since forced the school district to be more diligent in making sure that teachers are moved into the probationary category rather than kept languishing as a temporary teacher.
Although it took almost six years to reach a settlement, the teachers involved were pleased to have received their checks, according to Barnes. "The whole process also says something about the organizational strength of BETA. The district knows that we have people on the lookout for abuse like this, and we will go after them."
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