Union leaders mistakenly fired by WCCUSD demand answers
on June 24, 2022
Kristen Pursley has been teaching adult education full time in the West Contra Costa Unified School District for 19 years. So it came as a shock on June 8 when she received an email from Human Resources telling her she was laid off.
When she heard that co-worker Ken Ryan, who has been teaching adult education for 28 years, received the same notice, Pursley grew suspicious. Ryan is president and Pursley vice president of a new union representing around 61 adult education teachers. The union has been negotiating its first contract for four years, and Pursley said those talks recently hit a setback.
She took the matter first to her assistant principal, and then to the superintendent, who informed her in a June 11 email that the firings were a mistake. At the June 15 school board meeting, Superintendent Chris Hurst apologized to the teachers, said he didn’t authorize their layoffs and promised an investigation.
“The board was not involved, the district was not involved,” Hurst said. “It was an error. However, the district has also taken action to investigate the matter.”
The response only confused the matter, Pursley said.
“They fire the president and the vice president of the union. Now they’re saying, it’s just not what it looks like,” Pursley said two days after the board meeting. “But I don’t have a clear idea of what else it’s supposed to be if it’s not that. If it’s not what it looks like, what is it? And that has not been clearly expressed.”
Pursley’s original email, which was reviewed by Richmond Confidential, was signed by Sylvia J. Greenwood, the director of certificated employees at WCCUSD’s Human Resources Department. Greenwood’s signature also was on Ryan’s letter, Pursley said.
The letters were identical, she said, and succinct, starting with an explanation of why they were considered temporary employees:
Education Code section 44929.25 provides that any person who is employed to teach adults for not more than 60 percent of the hours per week considered a full-time assignment for permanent employees having comparable duties shall be classified as a temporary employee, and shall not become a probationary employee under the provisions of Section 44954. Based on the foregoing, you were hired under a temporary teaching contract pursuant to authority stated in the Education Code.
Notice is hereby given that, in accordance with Education Code section 44954(a), you are hereby released from your position as Part-Time Teacher at Adult Education, effective at the end of the school year 2021-2022.
We wish you all the best in your future endeavors.
While most adult education teachers are part-time, Pursley and Ryan are both full-time teachers in the program, meaning they work 37.5 hours a week.
Pursley said she asked Assistant Principal Erica Ehmann about the notice.
“I got this kind of cheerful email from our vice principal, asking me about something having to do with next year,” Pursley said. “And I emailed her back and said, ‘I just got this email that says I’m laid off and have you heard about this? And she immediately says, no, that’s wrong, I’m going to be working on this.”
Pursley said Ehmann called the district’s Human Resources Department to explain that Pursley and Ryan were full-time teachers.
That same day, Pursley and Ryan were sent new termination notices, but the only difference from the first letter was that the last paragraph called their positions “teacher at adult education” instead of “part-time teacher at adult education.” The first paragraph explaining the definition of a temporary teacher was not changed.
The Adult Teachers Union was organized in 2017. So far, it has negotiated a 6% wage increase for 2018-2019 and another 4% for the 2019-2020 school year, as well as prep time, which adult teachers did not have before, and four paid holidays, according to Pursley. The union is still negotiating medical benefits and wages beyond 2020. At first, the negotiations were going well, Pursley said, but recently, that changed.
“This year it has really ground to an almost complete halt,” Pursley said. “The district has started wanting to revisit all sorts of issues that were, as we understood it, resolved a long time ago.”
The Adult Education Program provides a variety of in-person and virtual classes for adults in the district. There is an English language program, a GED program, trade certificate opportunities, and classes of interest to the community. This past school year, 2,446 students were enrolled in the program.
At the June 15 board meeting, 10 people, some of them adult education teachers, spoke out against the treatment Pursley and Ryan received.
“It’s a pattern, a pattern of treating the teachers and our program as if we were not important,” Gayle Louie, a teacher in the program for 27 years, said. “But we have taught hundreds of thousands of students and taught them English. And people are very upset at all these things that are happening to our program, so you should do the right thing.”
Ryan Phillips, spokesperson for WCCUSD, declined to address the concerns raised at the meeting, saying in an email: “We take this issue very seriously. In fact, there is an ongoing investigation into the matter at the direct request of the two teachers who were affected. We cannot comment at this time.”
Greenwood did not respond to a call and emails seeking comment.
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