OPRF and the RIF

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By Dan Haley

Editor and Publisher

Odds and ends with some a bit odder than others:

The nuances of the RIF: It is a fairly routine process, the springtime RIF-ing of teachers. It is a legal, contractual, logistical process in which a school district gives early warnings to specific teachers that they may not be hired back for the fall semester.

Came onto our radar just yesterday after a call from a parent who said her son told her a large number of teachers were being released. Then came emailed letters from students. And then my daughter directed me to the newly launched Facebook page called "Save OPRF," facebook.com/groups/381530861869419, which was focused on student angst over the RIF. Tuesday morning when I started this column, 300 people, mostly students and a few former students, had signed the online petition. Now, at noon Tuesday, it is up to 546 signatures. And there is a Twitter feed and a student-launched website, too.

When I talked to Supt. Steven Isoye this morning, he understood the upset. "We are talking about relationships that these students have developed with adults in this building. There is a human factor to all this."

And then he and the new HR director, Lauren Smith, took me through the process to date. Last week the school board at Oak Park and River Forest High School approved the Reduction in Force plan put forward by administrators. It was, Isoye said, a fairly typical list. All part-time faculty members are automatically RIF-ed. Teachers hired to fill in for teachers on leave are routinely RIF-ed. Then a few more difficult judgments are made to RIF non-tenured teachers to solve unique circumstances. This year, for instance, the head of the history division chose to return to the classroom. That required the RIFfing of a non-tenured history teacher. A dean is being reassigned to classroom teaching and that led to the RIF notice for a non-tenured math teacher.

Circumstances may change by fall, based on enrollment and what elective courses students choose, and other teachers may still leave which would open slots. In other words, there is still flux in the system and the legally-mandated RIF process is the early warning. But Isoye said it is still a difficult process for teachers and, by extension, for students, because while teachers understand the process exists and that they may be let go, "to know is one thing and to hope is another." The day after the board acts, he said, teachers are hand-delivered the RIF notices. It is an emotional moment.

Now history tells us that many of the part-time teachers will be called back, assuming students sign up for their specialized electives in adequate numbers. Other RIF-ed teachers will find their way back as other dominoes fall. The superintendent isn't saying this, mind you, because he has just gone through the legal process of a painful reality check. He can't turn around and immediately dollop out false hopes. "We don't know, at this point, who is coming back," he says.

Isoye does emphasize that the RIF process is not driven by budget cutting and, as it relates to part-time teachers, is most related to what he describes as the student course selection process, "which is a big part of the culture at this school."

The personal connections between students and teachers drive the upset. The multiple platforms of social media allow the urgency and the contagion. Ultimately it is about people, and that makes this about more than legalities and contracts and logistics.

Life in Mayberry: Years back I'd call River Forest "Sleepy Hollow" because nothing much happened there. I considered it criticism, the locals took it as more piling on by activist Oak Parkers, but the truth was that most people liked their town sort of sleepy. These days, I think the village is a lot more interesting, though the powers that be in town now sometimes refer to it as Mayberry, in homage to that idyllic burg, just down the road from Mount Pilot.

Now however, two years after the grownups in town ran the insurgent Darling clan (aka Hoke and Dudek) back into their mountain holler, and everything got sort of settled down (hasn't been one cop suing the village in what seems forever) the elders are jockeying for position for next year's race for village president.

Of course, River Forest currently has a president by the name of John Rigas. He has yet to officially declare his intention to run or not run for re-election in 2013. But two of his board colleagues — Catherine Adduci and Michael Gibbs — are pre-positioning themselves. Adduci, a former village clerk and current trustee, has declared for president in an interview with our Devin Rose this week. That led Michael Gibbs, a current trustee, to tell us that he would never run against John Rigas, but if Rigas declares himself done, then Gibbs is in the race, too.

If Rigas is Andy Taylor — laconic, droll, smarter than he looks — then who are Gibbs and Adduci? Seems clear that Michael Gibbs is Barney Fife. Passionate, true blue, a bit goofy, the sort of guy to whom you'd only give one bullet. Adduci? The classic Mayberry match-up would pit Barney against Aunt Bea, who found that little man endearing but a source of frustration, what with her North Carolina pragmatism. However, Catherine Adduci is a modern woman and Bea Taylor just isn't right. No, Adduci is more of a Helen Crump type — a career woman on a path to be assistant principal. Able to keep Andy in the palm of her hand, but still in all, at the ready to make a County Fair-worthy peach cobbler.

Next week: What TV town is Oak Park? And who is David Pope, really!

Marty, Marty, Marty: Marty Stempniak, our stalwart village hall reporter these past five years, is moving on. His final stories for us will appear in next week's paper.

Marty's story is a familiar one to us. He arrived as a kid intern, morphed into a freelancer, and was sitting there at the right time when Drew Carter, our previous village hall reporter, got hired by Crain's. My colleagues said, "Give the youngster a chance." And so the Stempniak era began. Hard-working, endearing, and possessor of a mean David Pope impression that will be lost on his new co-workers at a health care trade magazine, Marty is one of those fellows who has put a valued stamp on this rag during his stay with us.

Email: dhaley@wjinc.com Twitter: @OPEditor

Reader Comments

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Jim Coughlin  

Posted: April 7th, 2012 12:01 AM

Best of luck,Marty. I worked with your dad and remember well his serenading Village Hall staff by playing a tune on the harmonica.

parent from op  

Posted: April 5th, 2012 10:00 PM

Let's be clear - the deans became deans because they thought that would be a better job than teaching in the classroom. So getting rid of good, but non-tenured, teachers so that we can keep "teachers" who don't want to teach is a really bad choice. It's time to "consequence" the union - we need to be retaining teachers based on demonstrated skill, not years in the breadline.

Help, please  

Posted: April 5th, 2012 6:30 PM

I've read the article and most of the comments (some more closely than others) but I'm stuck on how/why the RIF is a union issue. Is that related to tenure or is it something else? Can someone clarify how that works, please?

OPRF Achievement Gap  

Posted: April 5th, 2012 5:39 PM

@OPRF Achievement Gap, thanks for focusing and identifying the Problem. The Rifing of the teachers is not the Problem, it's a symptom. Problem is State statutes & the Unions. They've created this mess, where Good is outweighed by Unions and Tenure. Did I ever say there are NO Good teachers with Tenure...I reread the post, & the answer is still no. When will the community wake up, and realize the problem is in our own back yard. Lets change this - or create Charter Schools.


Posted: April 5th, 2012 4:20 PM

Marty, I hope you are getting a raise. Best of luck in your new life endeavors.

another teacher from Oak Park from Oak Park  

Posted: April 5th, 2012 4:02 PM

School districts can hire at the bottom of the scale for year long contracts, and then constantly rid and call back or replace. The same thing is done at the college level; if your class doesn't get filled, you're out. Non-selective cohort programs and taxpayer subsided programs such as Teach for America have contributed to this glut of teachers. The saddest part of this is that not many really good students want to become teachers. They see no future in it.

another teacher from Oak Park from Oak Park  

Posted: April 5th, 2012 3:58 PM

Both OPRF and Riverside Brookfield, both relatively stable schools, have had large layoffs this year. While Arnie Duncan says there will be over on million new jobs soon, I don't see it. Twenty years ago the same thing was said about retiring college professors, and we all know what happened there (no new jobs and a lot of those PdDs were pushed into teaching high school, causing more competition in that market). High school teaching especially is ripe for creating a similar adjust system.

another teacher from Oak Park  

Posted: April 5th, 2012 3:54 PM

PERA (Performance Evaluation Reform Act) might help remove some of the underperforming teachers and create conditions to hire and keep new teachers. I don't mind paying people well, but OPRF (and a lot of other districts) have a lot of dead weight eating up a lot of resources. In a few years, bad teachers will be able to be evaluated out. The bigger concern is that there are fewer and fewer teaching jobs and a lot of really good people have been thrown out of work.

Marty Stempniak from Wednesday Journal  

Posted: April 5th, 2012 3:48 PM

Never have posted on this site anonymously. Not even once. Thanks for the kind words Patricia, John, S.D. and Lori.

Ruth from Oak Park  

Posted: April 5th, 2012 2:57 PM

I still don't think what is happening at OPRF is routine.

@OPRF Achievement Gap  

Posted: April 4th, 2012 9:41 PM

Your passion is well noted but you are ignoring the contract and state statutes that don't allow any school district to lay off tenured teachers over non-tenured teachers. As far as teachers making over $100K, I don't begrudge any of them the pay. It isn't easy teaching and teaching at OPRF is no cake walk. And let's not imply that all tenured teachers are not great teachers as well. A lot of the young ones who are losing their jobs learned from the ones already there.

OPRF Achievement GAP  

Posted: April 4th, 2012 9:02 PM

@RIF ISOYE save your RIF for all the overpaid, underwhelming gym teachers making 120k and more. How can you - a PhD tell this BS to the Paper, when you know dam well you have told the full time teachers, who Students love - and our preforming Great "sorry, but you are gone and will NOT be rehired" Start with the Union, and toss out the under performing teachers. Do something DIFFERENT and Bold, and not the same ole same ole that Rigas said they did - 8-10 years ago. Start EARNING your 250K

Debbie from Oak Park  

Posted: April 4th, 2012 6:56 PM

Just because letting teachers go is "routine," doesn't mean it's right.


Posted: April 4th, 2012 6:24 PM

Marty, can you now divulge what your anonymous screen names were for commenting on your articles? Or better yet all of the WJ staffers?


Posted: April 4th, 2012 2:37 PM

Dear Marty, we, the reading and writing community, wish you the best in your future endeavors. Be well, and do write into these comment boards, we look forward to it. "Parents can only give good advice or put them on the right paths, but the final forming of a person's character lies in their own hands." %u2015 Anne Frank

Lori Malinski  

Posted: April 4th, 2012 12:56 PM

Mart! Gonna miss you! Best wishes!

Former OPRF Student from Not Oak Park no more...  

Posted: April 4th, 2012 10:08 AM

So I get on facebook and get a million requests to "Save the OPRF teachers"...and I still dont know why dey need saving...? And i dont understand none of this article. Could sumone explain it to me in english?

Anne Bowhay from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: April 4th, 2012 8:48 AM

Still unclear is whether OPRF is cutting back or eliminating any particular programs or language offerings, and if so, why. Are they cutting Mandarin Chinese? German? Is drama being cut back? Are more electives being cut? It is touching to read the petition comments posted by students and recent grads. OPRF employs some wonderful teachers. The students' comments show many of these teachers inspired their kids. Also important, some of the RIF'd faculty clearly let their students know a teacher cared about them, helping kids feel motivated and less anonymous in a good, but large, school.

Becky from River Forest  

Posted: April 4th, 2012 1:14 AM

...of course their is a "human factor" to this, but are we speaking about the teachers being released, some with the added comment of, "You will NOT be back next year." or are we talking about the humans who remain and or will return who are ineffective and possibly there for the money and the retirement package? If there wasn't a "human factor" then why would we care? Teaching isn't just showing up and doing the same old thing that one has done every year, or giving the same tests over and over

John Butch Murtagh from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: April 3rd, 2012 10:51 PM

Marty - we poked our fingers in each others eye once in a while, but never lost our ability to chat. There was times when I bailed out of board meeting at 10pm and knowing the meeting was going 'til midnight, thinking that you had the worst job in OP. Then I would read your articles and think -- Marty has best job in OP. Lots of Luck. You will be missed.

John Butch Murtagh from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: April 3rd, 2012 10:39 PM

Hello Transparency -- we luv ya! It is fantastic to see Supt. Steven Isoye and HR director, Lauren Smith opening up to the press and the residents. Hopely, we will see more taxing districts following D200's path. I recall from my Michigan school board days that temporary teachers, subs, and teacher without low seniority hoped to receive a spring RIF letter. Why? It gave them unemployment for the summer. I hope it works in Illinois as well. I have no problem with summer unemployment at all. It's tough making a go of things when you first start as a teacher. Great scoop, Dan. It was absolutely Martyish!

OPRF Achievement  

Posted: April 3rd, 2012 10:14 PM

@John Rigas you have just described exactly what is WRONG with Unions in the School. "It is legal, and is all part of the process" Teacher ratings, effectiveness & Salary have nothing to do with it. Student choices do? Yea right and we all willingly will hand over any amount of Taxes you ask for. BTW what is the "Demand" for Drivers Ed Teachers/Coaches - that make over 130K per year? Oh, I forgot, sports & gym are more important than Math, Science & History. Well, this is Ed. Unions!

Daniel Foley from River Forest, Illinois  

Posted: April 3rd, 2012 10:03 PM

Your comments about the individuals in River Forest were mean spirited. I don't recall you or anyone at the WJ making such characterizations about those who run Oak Park. I'd argue that while River Forest was a source of entertainment in government for a time period, your recent episode with Mr. Barwin indicates that Oak Park has some issues. Please be sure to compare your board to a backwards tv show from the 1950s.

Dan Haley from Wednesday Journal  

Posted: April 3rd, 2012 9:10 PM

Marty's dad, that would be Marty Sr., had a career in public works at village hall. He also, if I remember right, acted at Village Players. He died too young. Marty's mom, Aggie, worked as the public affairs person at village hall and later was Exec. Dir. of the Oak Park Housing Center. So Marty has deep Oak Park roots.


Posted: April 3rd, 2012 8:43 PM

Didnt Marty's Dad have a position in the Village at the Housing something?

a sad and disappointed oprfhs parent from oak park  

Posted: April 3rd, 2012 8:22 PM

Very, very disappointing to see that Jamie Hanson, Jonathon Silver and Michael Soffer have been issued release letters. My child has had all three of these non-tenured, but excellent educators. All have showed a strong commitment to the students, are creative and motivating in and out of the classroom. Aren't there other ways of cutting the fat at OPRF? How 'bout some lazy tenured teachers getting the release letter?

OPRF Parent as well  

Posted: April 3rd, 2012 7:58 PM

I applaud the students for trying to stand up for their teachers. It's interesting to see so many motivated to "do something." However, RIFing is a common March activity in all school districts & unfortunately always affects non-tenured teachers. It's hard for the kids to understand (many adults too!)-the whole process is a bit weird. And it's always sad and disheartening to see talented, involved teachers leave.Many factors were at play at OPRF this year inc. a div. head returning to classroom


Posted: April 3rd, 2012 6:35 PM

While trying to find out what was up yesterday I tried to see how routine this RIF was by looking at the previous year's board meeting minutes from around the same date. I am not sure that I found everything but I did see one similar list with far fewer names on it (perhaps 4 or 5 as compared to 21 on this years list). Maybe there is a similar long list from last year but I didn't find it.

John Rigas from River Forest  

Posted: April 3rd, 2012 6:32 PM

I spent 8 years on the High School Board. This was done every year and is "rutine" and required both by teacher contract and statute. The year of the referendum the school Rif'd every non-tenure teacher because it was unclear what the budget would be if the referendum failed. Part time teachers know this will occur and are not surprised. Non-tenured also know it is possible,especially if they teach a class with a small number of sections. Dan Haley's article explains the process very well.

Ruth from Oak Park  

Posted: April 3rd, 2012 5:30 PM

It's insulting and surprising for the school to act as if this is a routine thing. I've been an OPRF parent for years, and have never seen anything like this. Our students deserve better than the unexpected and unexplained dismissals of some of their favorite teachers.

OPRFHSDad2 from Oak Park  

Posted: April 3rd, 2012 5:27 PM

I expect a lot of this was caused by legalities and notice requirements but my daughter was in tears when she got home yesterday. With some research on the HS website we found the lists and some very good teachers that have developed strong connections with their students were on them. I find it interesting that one of the classes she signed up for w/her advisor that would have been taught by one of these teachers was not on her official schedule. Not much demand if the class has been removed.

Christina Birkentall from Oak park  

Posted: April 3rd, 2012 5:15 PM

Please help save these jobs. I noted on the list a number of teachers who have helped my special needs son grow and learn. I can't even imagine the Theatre dept. without Ms. Strimple. The school may be doing this just as a matter of course, but it is not what should be done. Please add your name to the petition today!

Patricia O'Sheea  

Posted: April 3rd, 2012 5:08 PM

Marty! Congratulations. You will be missed though. Best of luck on your new endeavor.

Dan Haley from Wednesday Journal  

Posted: April 3rd, 2012 4:53 PM

Well, thanks Tom. I'll have to go back to the Wikipedia for Mayberry to see if there was ever a reference to a local newspaper. From my wasted youth watching Andy Griffith reruns, I don't recall the paper. A wasted opportunity. And I'd rather be Opie than Gomer or Howard Sprague.


Posted: April 3rd, 2012 4:52 PM

Doesn't OPRF have $70 mil sitting in the bank? They could use that money to keep the "reduced" teachers around. And say what you want about River Forest, but they don't let the gun thugs push them around. OP could use a little of that sand.

Tom from River Forest  

Posted: April 3rd, 2012 4:46 PM

So if River Forest is Mayberry, does that make the Wed. Journal the Mayberry Sun and your column "Mayberry after Midnight?" If so, I assume in next week's column Opie/Dan Haley will tell us all about Susan Conti's Chicken ala King.

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