Upper Arlington News

Hard lessons

Students learn favorite UA teacher will lose his job

By ThisWeek Community News  • 

Budget cuts in the Upper Arlington school district hit home for high school junior Evan Lewis, who learned two weeks ago that his favorite math teacher is among those whose contracts will not be renewed.

In a letter to the Upper Arlington Board of Education, he said he is not the only student unhappy that Andrew Tweddle will lose his job.

"I feel a responsibility to inform you of the mass feeling of hurt that all of his former and current students felt when this terrible news broke," Lewis wrote. "Students published Tweets such as #SaveMrTweddle."

Tweddle is among at least 27 full-time teachers whose jobs are slated to be eliminated as part of $6 million in budget cuts district leaders say are necessary to keep the size of a likely levy request in November "reasonable" for taxpayers.

Upper Arlington district voters rejected a 5.8-mill levy request in November 2012.

In his letter, Lewis said Tweddle is "without a doubt in my mind, the best math teacher I have ever had. Mr. Tweddle stays engaged, walks up and down the aisles and makes sure every member of the class understands the topic ...

"I have not talked to one student who believes that the non-renewal (of the teacher's contract) was just," he wrote. "I am extremely disappointed with my school board's decision and I will not settle for this event to go down without protest. How the renewal of contracts can be based solely on tenure and not on student performance reviews is beyond me."

Lewis said he believes a review system where students can comment on a teacher's performance could help district leaders identify the most effective teachers.

Board President Robert Arkin said he understands the pain Lewis and other students are feeling.

"My life was changed by gifted teachers who made a difference," Arkin said. "That moment or that course that is life-changing exemplifies the thing we are all about creating in the Upper Arlington schools.

"It is nothing short of sad to have to confront these budget cuts consequent to the loss of the levy request on the November 2012 ballot, and to see some of these wonderful people go," he said.

Included in the budget cuts to be made over the next two years are the elimination of eight administrative positions and an increase in athletics fees from $85 to $100 per high school sport, and from $42.50 to $50 per middle school sport.

"This is the second time I have been through this in my 12 years on the board, with cuts this time far more substantial and painful because they are focused more on personnel," Arkin said. "Both times, it has been more painful than I can describe, but this time, it is clearly worse."

Lewis said he wrote the letter with the goal of having Tweddle retained, but he realizes that is unlikely, something he discussed with his father.

"My father replied that sometimes you must fight not so much to affect the current situation, but so the chances are minimized that it will not happen in the future," he said. "I think that longevity being more important than performance/competency is illogical and counterproductive."

Lewis said he thought other areas of the budget could be thinned instead.

"Room for teachers like Mr. Tweddle, one of the best math teachers I have ever had, could certainly be found," he said. "Mr. Tweddle is a true teacher in every meaning of the word and it is not only a shame but a sin to see him go."

Arkin said the Educate UA campaign against the November 2012 levy cited the district's high costs per pupil.

"The cost per pupil is driven almost exclusively by labor costs," he said. "To be responsive to our voters and to lower labor costs, we must eliminate staff. Attrition through retirements, resignations and leaves of absence is, of course, preferred. However, these are followed by the non-renewal or layoff of eligible staff."

Educate UA used the slogan, "It's OK to vote No." Arkin said maybe it was not OK.

"Any statements people heard or saw that 'It's OK to vote No' and that there would be no changes if the levy failed were, it is clear, entirely misleading," he said. "Some of the things that make the Upper Arlington schools unique and special are part of these cutbacks.

"In November 2013, with another likely levy request on the ballot, we will need citizens to be galvanized to support the schools," he said. "We, as a district, will have to do a better job of communicating about school funding, the implications of failed levy efforts and about the excellence of the UA schools."

He said if additional attrition occurs, the board will consider bringing back staff members whose positions have been eliminated.

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