Everywhere I look these days, there is another bill on teacher seniority and evaluation. New York’s legislature is considering a bill that would gut seniority provisions in that state’s education code, and I just saw another article on a big fight brewing in Colorado over teacher evaluation and tenure. (Arizona banned seniority entirely last year, but then again, that’s Arizona for you). California’s foray into this discussion comes in the form of SB 955, a bill introduced by Republican Bob Huff of southern California. The California Teachers Association and other labor groups adamantly oppose the bill, which is supported by Governor Schwarzenegger, the California Charter Schools Association and Education Trust-West. It narrowly passed out of the Senate Education Committee (5-4) last week.
At Tuesday’s Board meeting, Commissioners will hear an analysis of SB 955, and consider which alternatives to this bill, if any, the district might support. As a practical matter, SB 955 is highly unlikely to pass in its current form in our overwhelmingly Democratic legislature — as an “urgency” statute, it requires a 2/3 vote. Still, it’s clear that there is political traction for California to weigh in on the national conversation happening on teacher seniority and evaluation, and I’m told that an alternative bill is likely to be introduced by a Democratic sponsor. If that happens, it will be important for the Board to have a position on what provisions should be included or dropped.
Here are key provisions in SB 955:
- It would change the notification timeline for teacher layoffs. Currently, districts must issue a March 15 “intent to lay off” notice, and then a permanent notice on May 15. Even if an employee receives a permanent notice, the district can later call them back, but the danger is always that some staff will accept other employment before that happens. The other problem is that late state budgets extend the school district’s uncertainty about our own budget until well after March 15. This bill would eliminate the need for a March 15 notice, which I actually think is a good idea — I think it saves employees from needless stress in years (unlike this one) where budget uncertainties led us to issue far more March 15 notices than were ultimately needed.
- The bill would allow districts more flexibility in determining the order of layoff based on need and evaluation and allowing entire sites to be skipped. I think this goes too far in gutting the seniority system but it would be great to have some ability to limit the effect layoffs have on the hard-to-staff schools — it’s crazy to have two-thirds of the staff at a school facing layoff at the same time.
- The bill would also grant school districts wide latitude in assigning or transferring teachers to sites based on effectiveness and subject matter need rather than seniority.
- The rights of teachers to ask for hearings after dismissals or layoffs would be curtailed, along with changes to other provisions concerning those hearings.
I have to say that gutting the seniority system is a solution in search of a problem. Giving senior teachers more job security isn’t a bad thing in and of itself, as long as we are regularly evaluating and adequately supporting those teachers. I do think it’s a good idea to re-examine the timelines for notifying staff of layoffs, in order to better align those timelines with our budget process. Finally, I’m sympathetic to the plight of junior teachers at hard-to-staff schools and would welcome the ability to introduce some safeguards to staff who want to work at such schools, but I continue to think the best solution would be to address the challenging conditions at these schools so that they aren’t so hard to fill in the first place. Last week, Deputy Superintendent Carranza proposed a “clustering” system for district resources that seems like a good step in that direction.