For those who have long suspected there is something shady about how teachers are hired by various school districts around the province, finally there is solid and reputable evidence, courtesy of auditor general John Noseworthy.
The usual suspicion is that it helps to have a relative or friend highly placed somewhere within the education system.
In his annual report, Noseworthy points out a different dilemma — jobs given to retired teachers.
At first glance, it doesn’t seem to make sense that a vacant teaching position is filled by someone collecting an annual pension of $35,000 or so.
At second glance, it still doesn’t make sense.
The best explanation is a personal one — perhaps the 443 retired teachers who, Noseworthy found, collected a total of $5.2 million in salary in 2009 needed the extra income of $11,000, on average.
On the other hand, an equally valid and persuasive argument can be made that plenty of young graduates of Memorial University’s education faculty, as well as teachers with only a few years’ experience, also needed those jobs.
Noseworthy pointed out that not enough oversight took place to ensure vacant positions were first offered to non-retired teachers, as the rules require.
Both the Department of Education and the Newfoundland and Labrador Teachers’ Association (NLTA) offered utterly inadequate excuses for this situation.
Education Minister Joan Burke stated it is often difficult to fill positions in far-flung rural regions, especially if they are in specialty areas such as sciences or music.
This is neither credible nor believable.
There are people who spend years on the substitutes’ list in St. John’s in the hope of landing a permanent teaching position. Every year, the faculty of education churns out another group of graduates.
Are we to believe not a single one of them was qualified, or willing, to accept a job in Obscure Tickle?
Newfoundlanders (and Labradorians) with B.Eds have flocked to Ontario and Alberta, and to Japan and South Korea. But, according to Burke, they won’t go to outports a few hours’ drive from St. John’s.
Here’s a challenge for the minister: prove it.
Instruct the various school districts to go through their files and send documentation showing they advertised a teaching position, but did not receive a single application from a qualified teacher.
It is unlikely to be a common occurrence.
Noseworthy stated in his report some vacancies drew at least 73 applicants. The next step — although it might be beyond his mandate — would be to determine how many of the 73, or more, were qualified for the position that eventually was given to a retired teacher.
If the answer is “none,” perhaps the government should evaluate the quality of education being offered at MUN.
The NLTA’s response to Noseworthy’s revelations was predictable: salaries aren’t high enough to encourage people to go to Hinterland Harbour.
Again, let’s see some proof.
If retired teachers had to be hired because no one with a B.Ed would leave St. John’s to take a job in Outback Cove that paid only 40 grand, let’s see the particulars. Where and when did this happen? People have gone to Asia for jobs paying less than that.
Perhaps the NLTA can produce some candidates who were successful in obtaining a position, but turned it down upon learning the salary.
If so, they should immediately approach the nearest media outlet. The story they have to tell would be a strong argument for raising teachers’ salaries.
The problem with hiring retired teachers isn’t necessarily the
“double-dipping” aspect — collecting a public pension as well as a public salary.
The worse and more objectionable problem is that it blocks young, qualified teachers from getting started in their chosen profession.
Brian Jones is a desk editor at The Telegram. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.