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Union says about one in five replacement teachers not licensed

Nearly one in five replacement teachers hired in Crosby-Ironton schools during the five-week-long teachers' strike do not appear to be licensed to teach, according to Education Minnesota Thursday.

Harley Ogata, general counsel for Education Minnesota, said C-I School District officials released 20 more names of replacement teachers to the union Thursday, a day after the statewide teachers' union announced its civil lawsuit against the district and Superintendent Linda Lawrie on behalf of striking C-I teachers. As of Thursday afternoon, the civil lawsuit had not been filed in Crow Wing County District Court.

The civil suit against the district and superintendent alleges, in part, that the district has refused to promptly release public information about replacement teachers, in violation of Minnesota Data Practices Act. The union previously had identified three unlicensed replacement teachers among a list of 22 names provided by the school district last week. Ogata said the union received a new list of 20 names of replacement teachers Thursday and those names were checked to verify they were licensed on the Minnesota Department of Education's Web site, the official resource used by school districts to verify teacher's licenses.

Ogata said eight of the 42 replacement workers are not listed as licensed. Under state law, teachers must hold Minnesota teaching licenses at the time they are hired. Substitute teachers must be licensed as substitutes and school districts must verify their credentials with the state Department of Education. Of the three replacement teachers previously found to be unlicensed by the state, Ogata said one now has a pending application for licensure with the state.

Crosby-Ironton School Board chair Scott Kile said Thursday he couldn't respond to the union's claim regarding the teachers whose names weren't listed as licensed teachers.

"Simply saying so doesn't make it so," he said of the union's claim.

Kile said he had not seen the union's news release and he does not get involved in the day-to-day involvement of the school district's management.

Superintendent Lawrie did not return repeated calls made by the Dispatch Wednesday or Thursday.

Ogata said that five of the 20 replacement teachers whose names were provided by the district Thursday are not listed on the official state Web site as being licensed to teach. The union is attempting to verify through the Minnesota Board of Teaching that those five replacement teachers are not licensed to teach but Ogata said it may not happen until early next week because certain employees are temporarily unavailable at the state board of teaching.

"To me, this means two things," said Ogata. "Either they aren't getting enough applicants or this shows how desperately the district wants to replace these teachers and go to whatever lengths they can to not complete this contract."

"The thing that is particularly galling about this is that these workers are entrusted with the care of the children in this community," added Ogata. "Licensure is the only assurance of quality we have in this state. It means you have met the minimum levels of competency and can practice in this profession."

Ogata said the union, for weeks, has repeatedly requested the replacement workers' contracts, salaries and other monetary compensation they may be receiving. The union has yet to receive this information, also a violation of the Minnesota Data Practices Act, he said.

"If it turns out that they aren't licensed, that's the point we're trying to make both legally and to the public," said Ogata. "These are people who don't meet the minimum qualifications to be in the schools. We don't know who these people are. The thing with (being licensed through) the state is that they can at least vouch for you. Who is vouching for these people?"

Education Minnesota stated in its news release Thursday that data the union obtained from the state Department of Education and the state board of teaching indicate that in addition to the unlicensed teachers:

* Eight of the Cuyuna Range Elementary School replacement workers were "under-licensed," meaning they held licenses in various secondary education areas or in early childhood education, but are not licensed to teach elementary students on a permanent basis.

* Four replacement teachers were licensed as short-call substitute teachers. Substitute teachers must have college degrees in education but need not have worked as teachers.

* Seven replacement teachers were properly licensed to teach elementary grades on a permanent basis, provided they were teaching in their area of specialty. Some of these replacement teachers hold licenses to teach visual arts, English as a second language and physical education.

Union officials believe some of the CRES replacement workers may have been moved to the high school when it reopened for juniors and seniors Wednesday and the district has not informed the union where the latest group of 20 replacement teachers are currently teaching.

"This is what we pretty much thought all along," said Stan Nagorski, union president for Education Minnesota Crosby-Ironton. "They're getting people in there who are not licensed or qualified and this verified that. It'll force them to be honest with the public."

"The bottom line is, they are trying to break the union," Nagorski continued. "They're trying to make this strike last as long as possible. They refuse to accept any of our numbers (during mediation) and the cost savings to the district but then they stoop to the level of accepting unqualified people. It's a hypocrisy that's taking place. We want to sit down with our board. The sooner they realize this leadership is not getting us back in the classrooms, I mean both students and teachers, the more quickly we can get this done. The board needs to break loose, meet, direct the administration of what the settlement is and get it done."

No negotiations are scheduled between the Crosby-Ironton School Board and the teachers' union, but the school district hasn't ruled out further negotiations, Kile said Thursday.

A school board meeting is scheduled 6:30 p.m. Monday at Ironton City Hall. Kile said he expects much of the meeting to be closed but was still in the process of drawing up an agenda. He said the recent lawsuit the teachers' union filed against the board might be a topic for discussion with the board's attorney.

He said fifth-graders will return to school Friday.

Kile also said his estimate of the number of students who have enrolled at other districts since the teachers' strike began Feb. 9 was about 150.

MIKE O'ROURKE can be reached at mike.orourke@brainerddispatch.com or 855-5860. JODIE TWEED can be reached at jodie.tweed@brainerddispatch.com or 855-5858.