Friday, December 14, 2012

McDonnell Legislative Agenda: Where We Stand

The Governor held a press event yesterday to announce Part 1 of his “All Students K-12 Legislative Agenda.”  Before the conference, he and members of his staff briefed President Gruber and some VEA staff members on the legislative package.  We were handed the bill and offered a quick overview, but we were not allowed to keep copies.

With a strong cautionary note that “the Devil is in the details,” here is what I was able to ascertain before the bill was retrieved from my gaze.

The bill extends the probationary period for new teachers from 3 to 5 years.

The bill provides $59 million for the state’s share of a 2% salary increase for school employees. 
Localities will have to match with the local share to get the state money.  (The $59 million figure raises questions in my mind, as at the Senate Finance Committee retreat the staff indicated that a 2% increase would cost $75 million.)  The salary increase is contingent upon the passage of the bill.

We were told that direct aid to public education would not be subject to the across the board 4% reductions to state agency budgets.  We were warned that there would be some formula driven cuts (cuts caused by program enrollment/participation reductions).  We were told that there will be a net increase for PreK-12 funding.

References were made to a “Center for Excellence“ for professional development of teachers across the state.  We had suggested that the Governor take a look at what North Carolina is doing in this regard.  It was not clear what funds were being made available for this program.

References were made to funding for STEM and to continuing to examine the idea of the state-wide health insurance plan.

The Governor wants to proclaim 2013 as the “Year of the Teacher.”

The part of the bill that caught my attention addressed teacher dismissal.  The bill changes the definition of incompetence to include individuals who have received one or more unsatisfactory evaluations.  The current grievance procedure is drastically changed.   A hearing officer replaces the current three member panel (one chosen by the administration, one chosen by the grievant, and one neutral). 

The good news, in this regard, is that the Governor recognizes the need for due process in the dismissal procedure.  Our challenge is that the section of the bill which addresses due process will need substantive amendment.  We are now working with the Governor’s office in hopes of improving the bill before it is officially introduced.

Where do we stand?  First, we need to see the bill.  Second, we need to work with the Governor’s office to improve the draft before the session begins.  Finally, once we have an introduced bill in hand, the VEA Legislative Committee will direct our course of action.