I have been following the progress of WV Senate Bill 359 with more interest than usually and a new, special perspective. My perspective is shaped in part by the fact that I recently became president of my district’s local American Federation of Teachers in McDowell County, WV.
The bill is generally viewed as an education reform bill. Some of the contents are innocuously progressive. It requires increased levels of certification for kindergarten aides by 2020, full-day/five day a week pre-K programs at all of the state’s elementary schools by 2016, changes to the way school districts create their calendars, an increase in teacher planning time, changes to personnel law related to filling vacant positions, and a few other things.
The calendar and the changes to personnel law have been controversial, even emotional. I attended the state’s math conference this past weekend and wore my AFT shirt to Saturday’s sessions. During a break some teachers from Mason County asked me if there’d be a strike. At that time the bill was much uglier than it is now…
Teachers in WV have heard a lot about year round (or “balanced”) calendars. Before Senate Bill 359 there was a legal distinct: WV school calendars could be traditional (which meant that their start date and end date were no more than 43 weeks apart), or they could be balanced (which meant longer than 43 weeks). Balanced calendars had to be approved individually by the state board (I think) and (depending on how they were created) approved by school district staff through a vote under innovation zone rules. If SB 359 becomes law, school districts will be able to make calendars that last as long as 48 weeks. That would make it possible to start school, for example, on July 15, 2013 and finish the year on June 13, 2014. Spread a teacher’s 200 contract days out over that period of time however you like (except that the most recent version of the bill, I think, includes a provision that prevents school districts from having school on Saturday). Personally, I think a balanced calendar will benefit my students in the long run. I think the change will be painful, and most teachers don’t seem to think the benefit to students outweighs the pain involved in making the switch at the moment. Most parents don’t seem to be in favor of a longer calendar at the moment, either. The new law wouldn’t require it, but it would make it possible.
Changes in personnel law are more troubling. SB 359 creates a few new pieces of input into the decision as to who gets a vacant position once it’s posted. The term “hiring” gets used a lot in discussing this bill. To me, hiring is what happens when someone who doesn’t work for the school district gets a job working for the school district. But this bill’s changes impact all personnel decisions.
Some changes to §18A-4-7a
|After SB 359
||Before SB 359
|(1) Appropriate certification, licensure or both;
||(1) Appropriate certification, licensure or both;
|(2) Amount of experience relevant to the position or, in the case of a classroom teaching position, the amount of teaching experience in the required certification area;
||(2) Total amount of teaching experience;
(3) The existence of teaching experience in the required certification area;
|(3) The amount of course work, degree level or both in the relevant field and degree level generally;
||(4) Degree level in the required certification area;
|(4) Academic achievement;
|(5) In the case of a classroom teaching position or the position of principal, certification by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards;
|(6) Specialized training relevant to the performance of the duties of the job;
||(5) Specialized training directly related to the performance of the job as stated in the job description;
|(7) Past performance evaluations conducted pursuant to section twelve, article two of this chapter and section two, article three-c of this chapter or, in the case of a classroom teacher, past evaluations of the applicant’s performance in the teaching profession;
||(6) Receiving an overall rating of satisfactory in the previous two evaluations conducted pursuant to section twelve, article two of this chapter; and
|(9) Other measures or indicators upon which the relative qualifications of the applicant may fairly be judged;
|(10) In the case of a classroom teaching position, the recommendation of the principal of the school at which the applicant will be performing a majority of his or her duties; and
|(11) In the case of a classroom teaching position, the recommendation, if any, resulting from the process established pursuant to the provisions of section five, article five-a, chapter eighteen of this code by the faculty senate of the school at which the employee will be performing a majority of his or her duties.
Note that items 10 and 11 of the new process are “double weighted.” They each count twice.
So what are the concerns with this process? When I read it I wonder it means that a teacher with less seniority will win over a teacher with more seniority if the faculty senate AND the principal at the school recommend the less senior teach? I also wonder if ALL bids are public knowledge now, since all faculty members at a school are made aware of all bids when they vote on a recommendation.
I’m worried about a couple of implications. First, if I ever decide to bid out of my current job I don’t want that to become common knowledge until AFTER I get a new position. But I don’t know how the faculty senate can make a meaningful recommendation without know who all the applicants are. SB 359 will remove a great deal of confidentiality from the personnel process, I suspect.
Second, I think the new process could lead to a situation where school have the power to insure that when vacancies come open within their building, teacher already in their building get those vacancies – despite the fact that a more senior person at a school across the county wants the job. I don’t think I like that.
Third, I worry about corruption in the process. How much will the principal be able to influence the faculty senate’s recommendation? How often will the district superintendent call up a principal and “suggest” that they recommend a particular applicant?
Finally, I wonder whether my popularity (or lack of it) will come to play a more important role than my seniority or abilities in determining my chances of getting a new position within my school system.
When I started at Mountview High School in 2005 I had a teacher there point someone out to me and tell me that the other teacher had crossed the picket line during the last strike. That strike was in the early 1990′s – a dozen or so years earlier, at the time. People still remembered. I don’t think anyone relishes the idea of a strike.
We should know before long whether SB 359 will become law.