Posted: 03/12/2011 10:48:33 PM PST The San Bernardino Sun
Some union leaders are blasting a bill introduced in Sacramento that would base teacher layoffs on performance rather than seniority.
State Sen. Bob Huff, R-Walnut, proposed the bill to give school districts more flexibility to retain top educators.
Senate Bill 355 also mandates that school districts establish a rigorous and fair evaluation system based partly on student test scores for teachers as well as principals.
"Teachers have the power to change lives," said Huff, who represents Chino and Chino Hills. "Everyone has a story about a favorite teacher that inspired a hunger to learn like a spark ignites a fire. It's in the state Legislature's best interests to give school districts the flexibility they need to retain the teachers that best serve students."
Layoffs, transfers, assignments, reassignments and reappointments are currently based on seniority.
Redlands Teachers Association President Maria Clark said her group has not taken a stance on the proposed legislation.
But she also said seniority does not keep subpar teachers in the classroom, as Huff says.
"Seniority doesn't protect poor teachers," Clark said. "Permanent status means that once a teacher reaches permanency, if there are concerns about their performance, there's a process the district has to go through to fire them.
"They are entitled to due process. It really mandates that management do their job in evaluating teachers and making sure they are meeting the performance standards."
Clark said the Redlands Unified School District has many ways to keep tabs on teachers, including regular evaluations of both new and veteran teachers and a support and assistance program for teachers who might need extra help.
Claremont Faculty Association President Joe Tonan said seniority protects teachers from unfair terminations based solely on a district's financial interest.
"I think we have lost some good first- and second-year teachers over the last couple years who have bright ideas. I know where they're coming from, but this bill is not the solution," Tonan said.
But that's not how Huff, vice chairman of the state Senate Education Committee, sees it.
"You won't find the luxury of seniority protection in the private sector, and we shouldn't apply such an ineffective policy to an important profession like teaching," Huff said.
"This is a policy that hurts children since they should be given the opportunity to study with the best teacher possible."
Clark said it is no secret that some students are struggling in school.
"We realize many children are not being successful in school. We don't deny that," Clark said. "What's happened over the last few years is a multitude of things."
She said when the economy is bad, some students have more stress because they're coming to school hungry or have to move from a house to an apartment, which affects performance.
Additionally, teachers are juggling too many standards in too little time, she said.
"We have these mandates federally and in our state as well that say every child must be on the same page on the same day, but not everybody learns at the same pace," she said.
Tonan said blame for teachers struggles could be directed at the state's sluggish finances.
Frank Wells, spokesman for the California Teachers Association, said it would be a logistical disaster if school districts based layoffs on Huff's proposal.
If passed, the bill could lead to school districts that are in a cost-saving mode, removing higher-paid, veteran teachers, Wells said.
"I think with all the budget cuts out there, there is a knee-jerk reaction to put the blame on teachers," Wells said.
Sabine Robertson-Phillips, Redlands Unified assistant superintendent of human resources, said evaluating teachers based on student test scores as proposed in the legislation would be a major, time-consuming shift for the district.
"It would be a huge culture shift for us because we really base our reviews on overall performance," Robertson-Phillips said.
She said the district's veteran teachers, about 93percent of its total, are evaluated regularly by their principal or assistant principal based on the California Standards for the Teaching Profession.
The standards require teachers to be creative, engage their students, create effective learning environments, understand subject matter and evaluate their students, among other things.
Robertson-Phillips said for test scores to be added to the review process, contracts would have to be renegotiated with the bargaining units.
Districts shouldn't wait until a financial crisis to address teachers who are having difficulties, Wells said.
"This is not the time to deal with performance issues," he said. "They should be dealt with when they come up and when they happen."