Teton County School District certified staff members like nurses and psychologists will retain their continuing contract status for the 2017-18 school year.
The school board voted against Superintendent Gillian Chapman’s recommendation last week, with Trustee Keith Gingery leading the charge to amend the compensation package to include tenure for certified staff members who aren’t teachers.
“The staff felt incredibly supported by the school board,” said Jennifer Watson Kilgrow, the district’s first certified school psychologist, with 14 years of experience.
In Wyoming teachers can earn tenure in their fourth year. But professionals who work outside classrooms were in jeopardy of losing the “teacher” title and the rights of tenure because of how the state defines a teacher.
There are 27 positions — counselors, psychologists, nurses, occupational and speech therapists, and social workers — that would be affected by the change in classification and may still not be considered for tenure in the future. These “professionally certified staff” are those who do not hold the title of teacher and who don’t assign grades on a daily basis.
Roughly 15 employees who would have been affected by the tenure change attended the monthly school board meeting. Some already have tenure.
“When I stood up and got this, it meant something to me,” Kilgrow said, holding her formal acknowledgement of tenure. “I’ve put my heart and soul into the district. I really just want to leave this or throw it away because I’m so upset.”
Mark Pommer, the psychologist at Summit High School, disagreed with the idea of following a bare minimum set by the state.
“What I’d like the board to consider is the vision to be a premier school district,” Pommer said. “You can’t reach that by falling back on the minimum.”
His example: Jackson Hole High School graduation guidelines exceed the state’s minimum requirements.
Overall, the certified staffers were hurt that they might not be considered a teacher.
“As PTSB-certified school counselors we work with the most at-risk population: the kids teachers don’t know what to do with and parents aren’t sure how to handle,” a group of seven counselors wrote to the school board.
While Chapman assured staff that the change in status wouldn’t result in unfair firings or less job security, the employees felt that a perceived benefit is important. Kilgrow described receiving tenure as an acknowledgement of hard work and a way of feeling safe after extensive evaluation during the first three years on the job.
Gingery told fellow board members that the reason for his change is that the case law was something that he “strongly believes is not something that should be guiding us” due to it being “confusing” and “not clear-cut.”
In 2009 the Wyoming Supreme Court voted 3-2 that a guidance counselor in Hot Springs County wasn’t a teacher and wasn’t eligible for the same benefits. Gingery said such a close vote was “rare in the state of Wyoming.”
“I think we should take our time here,” Gingery said. “I think we are rushing along.”
The school district’s attorney, Sara Van Genderen, said the 2009 case was the only one, and “that is what is guiding the state of Wyoming.”
Several trustees agreed with Gingery.
“Benefits are benefits, perceived or not,” Trustee Joe Larrow said.
Trustee Annie Band said, “I don’t think we can overstate the importance of the roles these folks play in helping our kids succeed.”
But Trustee Bill Scarlett said he didn’t think the school district had the “legal standing” to continue to offer tenure for that group of employees.
“I’m no lawyer, but a 3-2 Supreme Court decision makes law just like a 5-0 does until it’s appealed,” he said.
Trustees voted unanimously to put tenure back into the compensation package. The board will do a job-by-job review when it determines who is eligible for tenure in the 2018-19 employee compensation package.