Competency at what price?

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Education gumshoe Scott Reeder of the Small Newspaper Group has provided more evidence that the system needs fixing.

In his original "Hidden Costs of Tenure" series, Reeder showed that about one out of 930 Illinois teachers were given an unsatisfactory rating. He also estimated that a school district might expect to spend at least $100,000 to try to fire a teacher. Since then, he's filed FOIA requests to obtain all of the attorney bills paid by Illinois school districts in tenured teacher dismissal cases. The upshot? Reeder underestimated the cost of firing a tenured teacher in the Prairie State by half.

Over the past five years, Illinois districts attempting to fire tenured teachers have spent a monstrous average of $219,504 in legal fees. And the final cost of these cases has yet to be determined: 44 percent of these cases are still active, with fees continuing to accumulate.

The high price tag of firing a tenured teacher strongly discourages school systems from firing even the least competent educators. "There is always the possibility that the school district may have to cut some program that benefits children, just to pay for the cost of firing a teacher. This is the biggest reason school districts do not try to fire bad teachers," said T.J. Wilson, a Monticello attorney specializing in education labor law.