Tisha Edwards

Tisha Edwards, Baltimore City schools interim CEO (Barbara Haddock Taylor / Baltimore Sun / June 19, 2013)

The Baltimore City administrators union is preparing to file a class-action grievance against the school system in response to Interim CEO Tisha Edwards' plan that has 61 principals facing disciplinary action if they don't do more to prevent students from missing 20 or more days of school this year.

Union President Jimmy Gittings and the executive board of the Public School Administrators and Supervisors Association (PSASA) addressed Edwards and members of the city school board at a meeting Tuesday evening.

What started as a protest of using performance improvement plans (PIPs) to improve year-end attendance numbers, ended with a personal and emotional back-and-forth between Gittings and Edwards on the issue of who should be responsible for getting students to school.

“We are all very concerned about the unfair and arbitrary decision to put 61 principals on PIPs for chronic [absenteeism]," said Gittings, who was joined by dozens of administrators in the audience.

You can read more about Edwards plan to place principals on PIPs here.

This week, a city councilwoman introduced a resolution asking the school board to reconsider using the PIPs and launch a citywide campaign to improve attendance.

Gittings told the board that principals were invested in helping to get students to school, but that the district failed to take into consideration several barriers that administrators face.

For example, he pointed out that Pre-K students who aren't obligated to come to school are counted in schools' attendance numbers for elementary grades, and high school grades include students who only legally have to attend school until they are 16 years old.

Gittings also pointed to the fact that principals had support staff, like social workers, who work on attendance issues that have been let go because of budget cuts from the district.

He went on to list ways that the district office has failed to support principals, such as flawed student record systems, unanswered emails, and unclear policies and inconsistent communication about attendance.

He also said he took issue with the fact that the use of the PIPs — which can affect year-end evaluations and pay raises — comes with only three months left in the school year. 

He added that the union was preparing to file a class-action grievance for the 61 principals affected.

Edwards fired back at Gittings saying that "we are all on PIPs, because we have not done what we needed to do for children in this city.”

She said that she was also accountable for children not getting to school. This year is the fourth year in a row the district is on track to have about 25 percent of its students miss 10 percent of the school year.

Edwards ordered central office staff, including principals' supervisors, to stand up at the board meeting if they were informed they too were going to be held accountable for attendance. 

“No one in this district is absolved of taking responsibility," she said.

Edwards also took issue with Gittings' stance had previously said that parents are ultimately responsible for getting their children to school.

She said the district also holds parents responsible, and that the district has referred more than 500 parents to truancy court. “I have more parents in truancy court than I have principals on PIPs," Edwards said.

She added: “Just because its hard doesn’t mean we’re not responsible.”

She called the PIPs public contracts for principals that are intended to show students that “someone respects them enough to ask them ‘why aren’t’ you coming to school?’