Federal officials have labeled the Prince George’s County Public School System a “willful violator’’ of labor laws and could forbid it to get any more temporary work visas, the majority of which were given to educators from the Philippines.
Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. said in a statement that he plans to appeal the findings, adding that they “may have a devastating impact on PGCPS and its employees and the school system’s ability to continue to place a highly qualified teacher in every classroom.”
He said, “This determination penalizes a school system that has strived to obtain qualified teachers in the same or similar manner used by other school systems throughout the country.”
Under the Labor Department ruling, the Prince George’s system owes $4.2 million in back wages to the foreign teachers and $1.7 million in penalties. Federal officials imposed the penalties because school officials “refused to acknowledge” the problem with the back wages and to negotiate a settlement, according to Labor Department spokeswoman Elizabeth Alexander.
This comes as the school district is struggling with a $155 million shortfall that has prompted cutbacks in sports and outdoor education programs, as well as hundreds of potential teacher layoffs.
The district also faces the possibility of legal action in civil courts. Some teachers recruited from the Philippines had hired a lawyer because of concerns they were being treated unfairly during recent budget cuts.
“The point here is that teachers from the Philippines should not be penalized and have the same rights as other teachers,” said Arnedo S. Valera, an immigration lawyer and executive director of Migrant Heritage Commission, a Filipino cultural group based in Fairfax. “This is a good finding to make sure that we are treated fairly, but it’s not over yet.”
Prince George’s began recruiting foreign teachers in 2005 because officials had trouble filling jobs with American teachers who could meet the tougher certification standards imposed by the federal No Child Left Behind law, said Synthia Shilling, the district’s human resources director. Two-thirds of these educators teach in critical areas, such as high school math and science, as well as special education.
The overseas recruiting effort was unusually intense, and the district used the federal temporary work visa, called H-1B, far more often than most school systems nationwide.