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House panel amends, advances teacher tenure bill

Posted: March 28, 2013 - 12:15am

JUNEAU — A bill that would require teachers to work in the same district continuously for five full school years to be eligible for tenure moved out of its only committee of referral on Wednesday.

HB162, by Rep. Tammie Wilson, R-North Pole, was amended and advanced by the House Education Committee. The bill also says that a teacher can be eligible for tenure if they accept a contract for six consecutive school years.

Currently, teachers who work for three continuous years or accept a contract for four consecutive years can get tenure.

Wilson says the bill will help districts have more flexibility and a large pool of teachers to choose from if they need to conduct layoffs, which protects and keeps Alaska’s newer but more specialized educators in the classroom.

The bill now moves to the House Rules Committee, which could schedule it for a vote.

Rep. Paul Seaton proposed two amendments to the bill, only one of which passed.

The successful amendment requires a district to review the status of a teacher’s tenure every five years, and allows the district to terminate tenure if the teacher did not meet the school district’s goals for student academic achievement for two of the five years in the review period.

A teacher could also lose their tenure rights if their work performance does not improve to sufficient standards under their required improvement plan or they do not “adequately assist the school district” when the district tries to adapt or change instructional models.

The failed amendment would have allowed, but not required, districts to offer tenure to superb teachers after three years, and would have forced districts to make a decision one year sooner than Wilson’s original bill. Rep. Harriet Drummond, D-Anchorage, and Seaton were the only two committee members to vote for the measure.

Seaton, R-Homer, hoped the two amendments would work together to give districts more flexibility, but the majority of the committee wanted to keep in place Wilson’s five-year plan to give districts more latitude on who they can lay off if they face budget shortfalls.

“We have people that we’ve recruited to come to our schools to address the issues that we have and (teach) the courses that we offer,” Carl Rose, executive director of the Association of Alaska School Boards, told the committee. “Normally the best qualified teachers are the ones put on the block for non-retention.”

Supporters of the bill, including a handful of superintendents around the state, contend that three years isn’t enough time to decide whether a teacher’s improvement is fleeting or sustainable. They say those two extra years give districts the time to decide if a teacher is actually worthy of tenure.

Rose said that his members are backing the measure because it gives them more flexibility if they need to lay off teachers. He noted that the most “qualified” teachers aren’t necessarily the best or most experienced teachers, but those who are hired for a niche subject area. Having the two extra years, he says, would give recruited teachers extra protection.

But the bill’s detractors contend that extending the tenure requirements by two more years will further exacerbate Alaska’s ability to recruit teachers, especially from the Lower 48.

They also say that tenure rights are misunderstood and primarily are meant to give educators due process rights if they are fired.

Joseph Boyle, president of the Matanuska-Susitna Education Association, said that 70 percent of the teachers annually hired by the state are from the Lower 48 on average.

Boyle called the bill a “third strike” discouraging teachers from moving to Alaska, when combined with the fact that public school teachers don’t have a defined pension plan and won’t earn Social Security benefits, and that they’ll have to accept continually decreasing salaries in inflation-adjusted dollars.

“We’re looking at attracting and retaining the highest quality teachers,” Ron Fuhrer, president of the National Education Association Alaska, told the committee. “If we put yet another higher standard for the best and the brightest to consider Alaska for their career in teaching, are we really improving our system?”

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Follow Joshua Berlinger on Twitter at https://twitter.com/j_berlinger

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Online

HB162: http://bit.ly/XvPo8t

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