Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The Annual Contract Bills

I usually write the entries on this blog, but what follows was written by VEA Senior Staff Attorney Dena Rosenkrantz, who is providing able assistance to the VEA Lobby Cadre as we lobby the Governor’s annual contract bill.

House Bill 576 (Richard Bell) and the companion Senate Bill 438 (Obenshain) propose radical changes in teacher contracts. As these bills move through the General Assembly, where they will surely be amended, pay careful attention to how the law changes the answers to these questions:

• How can a new teacher be dismissed during the school/contract year?
New teachers are currently employed on an annual contract. The teacher is entitled to statutory notice and hearing procedures on a recommendation to dismiss or terminate the contract during the school/contract year. As introduced, HB 576 provides new teachers employment only on a probationary contract allowing “dismissal without cause.” This leaves new teachers with no right to notice or hearing, and open to dismissal during the school year for any or no reason.

• Who is a new teacher subject to dismissal without cause?
Currently, even an experienced teacher who moves from one Virginia school division to another can be required to complete one year of probationary service before returning to continuing contract. As introduced, HB 576 and SB 438 require every teacher new to the division to have a probationary contract regardless of previous employment in another school division. And, once again, the probationary contract allows “dismissal without cause.”

• Who is a teacher?
As introduced, HB 576 and SB 438 define a teacher as a person who “holds a valid teaching license” and “is regularly employed full-time as a teacher, guidance counselor, speech language pathologist, or library-media specialist /librarian.” If personnel such as school psychologists, diagnosticians, technology resource teachers and others licensed by the State Board and working with students are not listed in the definition, will they continue to be employed on teacher contracts?

• Who decides how a teacher is evaluated?
Local school boards are now required to develop an appropriate evaluation procedure that addresses student academic progress and the skills and knowledge of instructional personnel, including instructional methodology, classroom management and subject matter knowledge. HB 576 and SB 438 require using procedures the Board of Education introduced as Guidelines. No one has experience with the Board of Education Guidelines or understands how they will be applied to the majority of teachers in subjects without standardized tests.

• Who decides how often/when a teacher is evaluated?
State law currently requires annual evaluation of new, annual contract teachers. The local school board decides when and how often to evaluate more experienced, continuing contract teachers. Many school divisions put experienced teachers on two- or three-year evaluation cycles. HB 576 and SB 438 require all new teachers (including experienced teachers who transfer from one division to another) to be evaluated twice a year. Then all teachers have to be evaluated each school year. The expense and personnel needed for annual evaluations makes this bill controversial even with school boards and administrators.

• Who decides the order of layoff in case of reduction in force?
Currently, local school boards do. Continuing contract does not protect a teacher from termination in a reduction in force. However, school boards can use length of service in making layoff decisions. HB 576 and SB 438 require the employee with the lowest performance evaluation to be released first when a reduction in force is necessary. Employees cannot be retained based on seniority.

• How is an experienced teacher judged “incompetent” and let go?
State law currently defines incompetence as including but not limited to “consistent failure to meet the endorsement requirements for the position or performance that is documented through evaluation to be consistently less than satisfactory.” The teacher accused of incompetence must get notice and opportunity for hearing before being dismissed. HB 576 and SB 438 specify two consecutive years of unacceptable evaluations, two out of three years of unacceptable evaluations, and any combination of needs improvement and unacceptable evaluations in three out of the past five years as just cause to dismiss a teacher. Further and most important, HB 576 specifies that experienced teachers are employed on annual contract, meaning experienced teachers can be denied employment for the next school year without receiving dismissal notice and hearing.

HB 576 and SB 438 will make radical changes in teacher employment—most especially how teachers are judged incompetent and fired. As introduced, the bill provides new teachers a probationary contract allowing “dismissal without cause.” Therefore, new teachers will have no right to notice or hearing, and could be dismissed during the school year for any or no reason. And the bill provides experienced teachers with the limited protection of annual contract. Experienced teachers will have the notice and hearing protection for dismissal during the school/contract year, but can be denied reemployment for the next school year with notice by June 15th. Keep your eyes on this bill and let your Delegate and Senator know how you feel.

I thank Dena for her good work on these bills.

HB 576 will be heard in the House Education Subcommittee on Teachers and Administrative Action on February 2 at 5 p.m. The committee members are as follows (all phone numbers are in 804):

LeMunyon (Chair) 698-1067,
Cole 698-1088,
Robinson 698-1027,
Yost 698-1-12,
Yancey 698-1094,
McClellan 698-1171,
Morrissey 698-1074,
Keam 698-1035,

SB 438 will be heard by the Education Subcommittee of the Senate Committee on Education and Health. The committee members are as follows:
Blevins (Chair) 698-7514,
Howell 698-7532,
Locke 698-7502,
Black 698-7513,
Carrico 698-7540,