Monday, August 01, 2005

Teacher Tenure, Golden Parachutes, And The Governator's Special Election

Here's an interesting article from, of all sources, The Los Angeles Times that has an overview of November's special election that's been called by California's Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. Some key points:
Large numbers of government employees and workers in many unionized businesses share job protections similar to those of teachers. Unlike college and university professors, public school teachers do not receive lifetime tenure.

But the idea of reducing teachers' job protections is popular with many principals and parents concerned about the difficulty of removing poor-performing instructors. A Field Poll last month found broad support for the teacher measure among registered voters, with 59% supporting it and 35% opposed.

Under state law, school districts can dismiss teachers during their first two years on the job without providing any reason. After two years in the classroom, teachers earn the more protective "permanent status." Before dismissing a permanent-status teacher, district officials must meticulously document poor performance over time, formally declare the intention to dismiss the teacher and then give the instructor 90 days to improve.

Schwarzenegger's measure — known as the Put the Kids First Act — would authorize school districts to dismiss teachers summarily during the first five years.

The initiative also would simplify the process for dismissing teachers with permanent status, allowing district officials to fire a teacher after two consecutive unsatisfactory evaluations without declaring their intentions in advance or waiting 90 days.

Dismissed teachers would still be entitled to a hearing before an administrative judge and two credentialed teachers from outside their district. State law empowers such panels to uphold or overturn teacher dismissals.

The Los Angeles Unified School District has attempted to dismiss just 112 permanent teachers — or about one-quarter of 1% of the district's 43,000 instructors — over the last decade. Some were fired, but most resigned or retired.

"It takes two to three years to effectively remove someone who is not helpful to children in the classroom," Los Angeles schools Supt. Roy Romer said. "That's too long."
The governor's proposed legislation does nothing to address the problem of underperforming district superintendents who, in the State of California, frequently have what are known as "revolving contracts" of three or even four years with their respective district's school board. (In California, the legal maximum for these contracts is four years.)

What this means is that at the end of a year, another twelve months are automatically tacked-on to the superintendent's contract, thus giving the superintendent what is in effect a "golden parachute" of several years salary.

The result is that if at sometime a school district's governing board of trustees wishes to remove its superintendent, then that board must pay the superintendent three or four full years of salary in order to be rid of him or her. Many California districts are very reluctant to pay such large sums in order to dismiss one superintendent while still having to hire a new superintendent who will also insist on a three or four-year contract to start.

The most obvious negative effect of the revolving contract is that in California, small town/city superintendents often become so entrenched that they come to resemble autocrats more than C.E.O.s who execute policies as directed by the district's governing board of trustees. In fact, I was present when our superintendent told a small group of teachers that the purpose of a school board was not the formulation of policy or its oversight, but solely the recruitment and hiring of the superintendent.

Sometimes, in these small towns and cities, it appears as though a check or balance is missing somewhere when it comes to public school oversight...
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