Fired Kobe teaching aides win compensation, not jobs

by Eric Johnston

Staff writer

KOBE — The Kobe board of education agreed late Thursday night to pay conditional unemployment compensation to foreign Kobe English Teaching Assistants (KATEs) that the city dismissed in February. But the city refused to rehire them, claiming there were no funds to do so.

The condition to unemployment compensation is that teachers must first pay into the system. Union officials rejected that demand.

The board did agree, however, that those teachers who had worked for three years or more would receive an extra day of vacation time in accordance with labor laws.

Thursday’s developments came after several weeks of negotiations between the Education Workers and Amalgamated Union (EWA), an education workers trade union representing many of the fired teachers, and the board of education. City council members had also questioned board officials over the need for the dismissals.

The board of education was notified by the city’s budget bureau in December that its budget for fiscal 1999 would be reduced by 20 percent overall. However, on Jan. 11, a form letter from the Kobe Education Center, which is run by the board of education and handles the KATE and JET (Japan Exchange and Teaching group) programs, was sent to all teachers.

That letter asked teachers who wished to renew their contract for the coming year to reply by Jan. 22 so that interviews could be arranged in February.

But shortly after that, the center notified 24 of the 46 KATE teachers that their contracts would not be renewed. Four teachers chose not to renew and 20 received letters of dismissal. Nine of the 20, however, were told that if they wished to renew, they could be placed on a waiting list.

“The way city bureaucrats went about the firings was wrong. They should have notified the teachers as early as possible so they would have time to look for another job,” said Tomio Awahara, a city council member of the New Socialist Party who took up their cause with board of education officials.

How, exactly, those dismissed were chosen remains unclear. Teachers appear to have been selected at random, but the union, and Awahara, claimed there was no objective criteria.

“Many of the teachers who were dismissed were older and had been with the KATE program for a while. A handful of the 19 dismissed had received bad reports from the principal of the school where they worked. However, some had received excellent evaluations,” a Kobe city source familiar with the issue said.

At Thursday’s meeting, city officials refused to divulge what criteria were used for the dismissals.

Darin Madore, vice chairman of the union, said teachers were not satisfied with the agreement and they will take their grievances to labor arbitration in April.

“In addition, teachers will also file a civil suit against the city demanding reinstatement and unconditional unemployment insurance,” Madore said.

Through the Education Ministry’s JET program and the city-funded KATE program, 72 native teachers of English had been employed at 95 schools in the Kobe area.

With these cuts, officials reduced the total number of foreign teachers from 72 in fiscal 1998 to 47 in fiscal 1999. The city said by doing so, it has cut 150 million yen from the budget.