By Sheri Gassaway
American Federation of Teachers (AFT) Local 420 President Mary Armstrong opposes a proposed statewide ballot initiative that would limit teacher tenure and base personnel decisions primarily on student performance standards.
“It would be a setback and would have an adverse impact on current educators and those considering entering the field of education,” Armstrong said
Teach Great, a coalition backed by billionaire Rex Sinquefield, is backing the ballot initiative.
Teach Great claims its ballot initiative would update and modernize educator evaluations using quantifiable student performance data as part of the evaluation system.
The proposal would curb tenure protections for teachers and other certified school staff by limiting their contracts to three years. Starting in July 2015, all public school districts would need to adopt evaluation standards that use student performance data to guide decisions on promoting, demoting, firing and paying personnel
“Standardized evaluations were just added by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education as part of President Obama’s Race to the Top Initiative,” Armstrong said. “Plus, each teacher evaluation inclues an accontability factor.”
So what is the ballot initiative really about?
A lawsuit filed in June, Anita Marie Kuehner and Daniel Twombly, two teachers in the Francis Howell School District, filed suit to block placement of the initiative on the ballot, makes it clear.
The lawsuit contends the proposed ballot initiative is unconstitutional because it effectively would change two parts of the Missouri Constitution — one dealing with education, the other with collective bargaining. It asks a Cole County judge to prohibit the secretary of state from certifying the measure for the November ballot.
Kuehner is president of the local chapter of the National Education Association.
The initiative has been proposed as a single amendment to Article 9 of the Missouri Constitution, according to the suit. However, it also amends Article 1 establishing the right to collective bargaining, which would violate constitutional provisions requiring initiatives to amend only one article of the constitution.
The Committee to Support Public Educators, which includes the Missouri NEA and the Missouri State Teachers Association, is financing the lawsuit.
TEACHERS’ UNIONS UNITED
Armstrong said she’s pleased that the teachers took the initiative to file the lawsuit, and that she agrees with their findings.
“I hope they are successful in stopping the proposal,” she said. “This issue (the opposition to the proposed ballot initiative) has united the Missouri NEA, the Missouri State Teachers Association and the AFT Local 420, and that’s never happened before.”
Secretary of State Jason Kander has until Aug. 5 to determine if the group has enough valid signatures to qualify for the initiative to be placed on the ballot. That is unless a judge prohibits Kander from placing the initiative on the ballot because of the lawsuit.
What is teacher tenure?
Two often asked questions about Missouri teacher tenure are
1. When does a teacher become tenured; and
2. What rights are afforded a tenured teacher?
Fred Wickham and Brian Wood, of the American Federation of Teachers’ Missouri legal counsel, spell it out
A teacher becomes tenured in Missouri once he or she has been employed as a teacher for five successive years in the same school district and thereafter remains employed in the same district.
Generally, a teacher acquires tenured status on the first day of his or her sixth successive year in the same district. The five-year period is shortened by one year if the teacher has two or more years of teaching experience in another school system.
A teacher who gains tenure with a district and is then separated from employment with that district can regain tenure if re-employed with the same district for one full year.
In addition, teachers who are employed pursuant to a part-time contract gain credit toward tenure on a prorated basis.
Once a teacher is tenured, he or she is considered a “permanent teacher” and is employed pursuant to an indefinite contract that continues from year to year. This is preferable to the one-year contracts given to non-tenured teachers, as those contracts may be simply “non-renewed” at the end of the school year upon timely notice to the teacher.
Should a school district seek to terminate the contract of a tenured teacher, a number of procedural rights must be provided to the teacher including a hearing before the school board.
In addition, the Missouri Tenure Act limits the reasons for which a tenured teacher’s indefinite contract may be terminated to the following:
• Physical or mental condition unfitting him to instruct or associate with children;
• Immoral conduct;
• Incompetency, inefficiency or insubordination in the line of duty;
• Willful or persistent violation of, or failure to obey, the school laws of the state or the published regulations of the board of education of the school district;
• Excessive or unreasonable absence from performance of duties; or
• Conviction of a felony or a crime involving moral turpitude.[/box]