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Santa Maria Sun / School Scene

The following article was posted on December 5th, 2018, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 19, Issue 40 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [] - Volume 19, Issue 40

District officials discuss battle over proposed changes to teacher transfer policy

By Kasey Bubnash

Santa Maria's high school district and its Faculty Association have been debating their 2018-19 school year contracts since last fall, but unlike in years past, salaries are only playing a small role in the dispute. 

Instead, much of this year's debate surrounds proposed changes to the district's teacher transfer and reassignment policy, and with the district's recent announcement that negotiations will be continued through a fact-finding hearing sometime after the new year, neither side appears to be backing down anytime soon.

The transfer policy, which has existed within the Santa Maria Joint Union High School District as it is now since the late '90s, allows teachers to voluntarily transfer to other district schools with open positions through a process that gives teachers with seniority preferential treatment. 

The current process gives little administrative oversight to principals and district officials, according to Assistant Superintendent Kevin Platt, who said administrators are rarely able to deny internal transfers to longtime teachers–even if they feel other applicants would be a better fit. 

"It makes it more difficult for administrators at a site to do the job they're supposed to do," Platt said. 

Through the current policy, any job opening at a school within the district is first offered to teachers already within the district, who can then apply to transfer. If at least two teachers apply to transfer and both meet the minimum criteria for the job, the teacher who has been employed by the district longest is chosen, according to the contract

No outside applicant can be chosen to fill the vacancy if a "qualified unit member" applies, the contract states; there is no required interview process; and while the contract states that a transfer request could be denied, it doesn't say under what circumstances. 

The Santa Maria Joint Union High School District and its Faculty Association declared an official impasse during its 2018-19 contract negotiations process in October. On Nov. 26, the parties announced they’d be holding a fact-finding hearing sometime after the new year.

The unclear language and lack of an applicant review process make it difficult for principals to choose the most qualified teachers to filled vacated positions, Platt said, and it can become difficult for the district to hold teachers accountable throughout evaluations. 

In the past, Platt said there have been issues with teachers applying to transfer solely because they'd had less than positive job evaluations at one school several years in a row. And in multiple instances, Platt said teachers with fewer qualifications have been chosen over other applicants simply because of seniority.

"Ultimately we want to try to do what's best for kids," Platt said, adding that the decision to accept or deny a transfer should be left up to the principal of each site. "Especially because they're ultimately the ones who have to answer to parents if something happens." 

Through the district's proposed changes, all applicants–whether they work for the district already or not–would be interviewed by a panel, which would include the hiring school's department chair and principal. The interview team could then hire any applicant who best fits the position. 

It's a change the district has been pushing to make for the last six years, Platt said, and he said the process as it exists now is unique to Santa Maria Joint Union High School District. 

In the Santa Maria-Bonita School District, transfer applicants are considered first based on the needs of the district, then credentials and related experience, and then seniority, according to Public Information Officer Maggie White. There isn't an interview process for transfers in Santa Maria-Bonita either, White said, but the selection is ultimately left up to the director of human resources. 

The Santa Barbara Unified School District does use an interview process for its voluntary transfers, and applicants there are also chosen based on the needs of the district and qualifications of the applicant. Seniority is not considered at all, according to its 2018-21 contract and Public Information Officer Lauren Bianchi Klemann.

Still, the Santa Maria high school district's Faculty Association has continued to fight the proposed changes to its policy. 

Faculty Association leadership, including President Matt Provost and Santa Maria High School's Department Chair Lorene Yoshihara, did not comment for this story, despite multiple requests. Provost said in a previous interview with the Sun that the transfer process gives longtime teachers much-needed freedom to move around and keep things fresh while maintaining job and salary security. 

Such transfers are one of the few liberties teachers are allowed without administrative oversight, and Provost said the district's proposal would essentially eliminate that asset entirely. 

Staff Writer Kasey Bubnash writes School Scene each week. Information can be sent to the Sun via mail, fax, or email at

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