By Chris Frost
Bulletin Staff Writer
COMPTON—A Compton Unified School District report prepared by Dr. Matthew Spencer, senior director of Classified Personnel Services, revealed multiple education code violations regarding substitute employees working in permanent positions.
The report outlines unfair hiring practices and negligence leading to laid-off employees remaining at home while substitutes perform their jobs.
Spencer interviewed Senior Director of Pupil Services Dr. Virginia Roberts, Director of Nutrition Services Tracie Thomas, Operations Manager Damon Fields, Attendance System Analyst Elbert Crum, CUSD Police Chief Hourie Taylor and Senior Director of Special Education Ruth Dickens before preparing the report.
The CUSD has several options for substitute employees.
“A substitute can cover for an absent worker, serve in a limited-term capacity for up to six months, and serve as a provisional employee while the district selects a permanent replacement from an eligibility list,” Spencer said.
The district currently uses permanent substitute employees, he said, and assigns them to vacant, permanent positions.
“The permanent substitute covers for an absent permanent employee, but if everyone reports for work the substitute reports to a home base or department and does work assigned by the supervisor,” Spencer said.
The district also decided against hiring permanent staff by using the appropriate eligibility lists, and assigned permanent substitutes to those positions.
During the 2010-2011 school year 32 substitutes filled permanent positions for the entire school year.
“Seven substitutes fill vacant positions in the maintenance department,” Spencer said. “The special education department utilizes 13 substitute instructional assistants in permanent positions. Those vacancies came from a layoff after the 2009-2010 school year.”
Taylor and Senior Personnel Analyst II Barbara Banks created a substitute pool after eliminating 17 campus security assistant positions at the end of the 2009-2010 school year.
“As of March 2012, three employees worked as full-time, permanent substitutes,” Spencer said. “Taylor said they cover for absent CSA’s and assist with other duties if everyone shows up at work. He calls them floaters.”
The food service department has 15 substitutes occupying full-time positions.
“This includes six cafeteria workers and three cooks,” Spencer said. “Seven cafeteria workers participate in the fresh fruits and vegetables program two hours per day. These are permanent positions, and the need has existed for more than six months.”
There are 53 problematic positions, he said, with substitute and permanent substitute employees working.
“There is no effort to replace these people with permanent employees,” Spencer said. “This can cause a false sense of security for the substitute, who might claim property rights over less senior permanent employees.”
The current practice contradicts the merits and principals found in the education codes for the merit system, he said, and generates concern with the Personnel Commission regarding the recruitment and selection of substitute employees.
“The predominant selection method used for new substitutes is by word of mouth, which is problematic,” Spencer said. “This is fertile soil for favoritism.”
He said several current substitutes have relatives working for the district and Personnel Commission, fueling speculation about nepotism.
“Many substitutes appear to have occupied permanent positions for up to seven years,” Spencer said. “The elements of fair, open competition for these jobs does not seem to exist.”
One instructional assistant spent the last seven years working, without interruption, as a substitute.
“She does not fill in for absent workers,” Spencer said. “Now she wants to be a permanent employee, get a raise, and receive benefits.”
This example is the tip of the iceberg, he said, and the district could face legal challenges from other employees making the same demands.
A breakdown of substitutes working in current positions reveal seven people working who failed their classification test, 15 laid-off employees, 17 word-of-mouth referrals, one person who was either terminated or laid off, a person who did not show up for his scheduled test, and 21 people hired from eligibility lists.
“Employees who took improper actions in this matter may be subject to discipline,” Spencer said. “Legal advice in this matter is prudent.”
He said the classified substitute program must be placed in his care because the Personnel Commission has not administered it in accordance with merit law.
“We must develop and implement a new classified substitute program as soon as possible,” Spencer said. “New procedures must include identifying and maintaining classifications and utilizing substitute pools and procedures.”
The projected implementation date is July 2012.
“Preparations must begin to terminate the substitute employees, coinciding with the new procedure’s implementation,” Spencer said. “These employees must reapply and undergo the process to be placed on the new eligibility list. Many current substitutes never met the minimum classification requirements and never passed their exams.”
Each permanent position filled by a substitute that is not needed must be eliminated by July 2012.
“We must implement effective and efficient position control elements for oversight and governance of the permanent workforce,” Spencer said. “Oversight of the substitute workforce is equally vital.”
Weekly meetings are crucial, he said, and must continue until the problem is under control.