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About project and reporter

In 1985, The Illinois Legislature passed school reforms intended, among other things, to improve the overall quality of the teaching force. Twenty years later, Scott Reeder, capital hureau chief for Small Newspaper Group, spent more than six months examining the practical impact of that effort. His complete report appears on this site.

Cost to fire a tenured teacher? More than $219,000

SPRINGFIELD -- Not only is it exceedingly rare to fire a tenured teacher in Illinois, but it also is extraordinarily expensive.

In fact, Illinois school districts that have hired outside lawyers in these cases have spent an average of more than $219,000 in legal fees during the last five years.

In a follow-up to its award-winning investigation of teacher tenure in Illinois, Small Newspaper Group took an in-depth look at costs associated with teacher dismissals.

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Stories from the "Hidden Costs of Tenure series

Tenure frustrates drive for teacher accountability Combine teacher tenure, softball evaluations and a reluctance to use remediation with underperforming teachers and you get a dysfunctional system. Kids are paying the price.

School boards lose power to fire poor teachers -- Procedure trumps everything when a school attempts to dismiss an incompetent teacher. The slightest error on any of the many forms to be followed can result in a problem teacher remaining in the classroom.

Firing Mr. Roth: $400,000 and counting -- Firing Cecil Roth has cost Geneseo schools more than $400,000, and counting. The case illustrates why administrators fear dismissing tenured teachers.

Impact of poor teachers cripples students for years -- A single weak teacher can have a devastating affect on a student's academic progress. One expert says a bad teacher can actually reverse academic abilities.

Student pregnant, DNA points to assistant principal; no firing -- A 14-year-old pregnant, and a DNA test indicates 99 per cent probability the father is an assistant principal at her school. But an attempt to fire him fails.

High cost of firing teachers deters action by schools -- School adminstrators' reluctance to accurately evaluate teachers makes dismissing bad teachers more difficult. 20 years worth of Cecil Roth's evaluations illustrates the impact.

`Diplomacy' undermines teacher evaluations -- Diplomatic evaluations mean most all teachers get the "excellent" rating they've come to expect in any circumstance. This ritualistic process undermines the intent of the Legislature when it mandated teacher evaluations in 1985.

Remediation falls short of '85 legislative intent -- Remediation, seen by legislators in 1985 as a tool for improving mediocre teachers, is a seldom used tool. It's also less effective than anticipated.

Teacher unions' clout keeps tenure strong -- Influential unions squeeze ever-more complex procedures for firing teachers out of the Legislature. School boards routinely add similarly complex procedures to local contracts.

Local influence adds to teacher-union power -- Politicking at the local level shows influence of teachers' unions at its peak. In the generally low-profile school board elections, word-of-mouth campaigning by teachers often determines results.

Schools resort to secret buyouts to get rid of teachers -- Frustrated by procedural hoops and the high costs of dismissing a poor teacher, schools sometimes resort to buyouts rather than outright firings. They then try to hide that cost from public view.

An editorial: Time to quit hiding costs of tenure -- With the information now in hand, it's possible to see what needs to be done. A grand trade is proposed.