Pattye Benson

Community Matters

Adoption of Tredyffrin Easttown School District’s 2010-11 Budget Set for Tomorrow Night

Tomorrow night, Monday, June 14, the school board will deliver the 2010-11 budget for final approval. The meeting is scheduled for 7:30 PM at Conestoga High School – here is the meeting agenda (word of warning – the agenda is 101 pages so suggest reviewing it online rather than printing!). I don’t think that there are any anticipated surprises to the budget. The school board has done a great job of keeping the public informed during this tedious budget process; I’m sure that there will be a collective sigh of relief from school board member after tomorrow night’s budget vote. I have a conflict with another board meeting tomorrow, but I hope that many residents will attend, and then share their thoughts.

Knowing that tomorrow was closing a chapter on the school district budget, I was interested in an Associated Press education article that was picked up in various newspapers this weekend. The article is about teacher tenure reform and how the Colorado legislature has made a rather bold statement against the teacher union in their state. Colorado is changing the way their teachers retain their jobs; using annual reviews and student performance statistics to make tenure decisions. In case you did not see the article, an excerpt is below.

In bold move, Colorado alters teacher tenure rules

By COLLEEN SLEVIN, Associated Press Writer Colleen Slevin

DENVER – Colorado is changing the rules for how teachers earn and keep the sweeping job protections known as tenure, long considered a political sacred cow around the country. Many education reform advocates consider tenure to be one of the biggest obstacles to improving America’s schools because it makes removing mediocre or even incompetent teachers difficult. Teacher unions, meanwhile, have steadfastly defended tenure for decades.

Colorado’s legislature changed tenure rules despite opposition from the state’s largest teacher’s union, a longtime ally of majority Democrats. Gov. Bill Ritter, also a Democrat, signed the bill into law last month. After the bill survived a filibuster attempt and passed a key House vote, Democratic Rep. Nancy Todd, a 25-year teacher who opposed the measure, broke into tears. “I don’t question your motives,” an emotional Todd said to the bill’s proponents. “But I do want you to hear my heart because my heart is speaking for over 40,000 teachers in the state of Colorado who have been given the message that it is all up to them.”

While other states have tried to modify tenure, Colorado’s law was the boldest education reform in recent memory, according to Kate Walsh, the president of the Washington-based National Council on Teacher Quality, which promotes changing the way teachers are recruited and retained, including holding tenured teachers accountable with annual reviews. The new law requires teachers to be evaluated annually, with at least half of their rating based on whether their students progressed during the school year. Beginning teachers will have to show they’ve boosted student achievement for three straight years to earn tenure.

Teachers could lose tenure if their students don’t show progress for two consecutive years. That won’t be a possibility until 2015, however, because lawmakers slowed down the process under political pressure from the teachers’ union. Teachers can appeal dismissal all the way to the state Supreme Court, and school districts have the burden of proving why they should be terminated.

Under the old system, teachers simply had to work for three years to gain tenure, the typical wait around the country.

Every state but Wisconsin has some form of tenure. The protections were intended to protect teachers from being fired because of their politics, religion or other arbitrary reasons. On average, school districts across the country dismiss 2.1 percent of teachers annually, generally for bad conduct rather than performance.

Colorado’s measure is a tribute to the tenacity of freshman Democratic state Sen. Michael Johnston, a former Teach for America teacher, principal and Obama education adviser. The 35-year-old Harvard- and Yale-trained lawyer was appointed to represent a largely minority Denver district that has seen an influx of more white residents because of redevelopment of the city’s former airport. He successfully fought changes to the bill that would have eased expectations for teachers with traditionally low performing students.

Although various states have responded to the lure of federal money by moving to tie teacher evaluations to student performance, no other state specifically changed its tenure laws as Colorado did.

Many teachers and some education experts argue that tenure reform is unnecessary. Margaret Bobb, an earth science teacher at Denver’s East High School, said bad teachers are often quietly coached out of their jobs by administrators, avoiding the protracted tenure dismissal process. She contends tenure is still needed to prevent good teachers from being dismissed for running afoul of administrators and to prevent experienced — and more expensive — teachers from being let go by cash-strapped districts.

“Education is not just you and your class. It’s not an individual activity. If you’re doing your best, it’s a system you’re a part of,” Bobb said.

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  1. I agree, Pattye – the School Board and District administration have done an exceptional job of providing budget information and providing a forum for public input.

    As for the Colorado tenure legislation, a welcome step in the right direction. Imagine that, “holding tenured teachers accountable with annual reviews.”

  2. I agree that the school board has done a good job. They operated the budget process in a very transparent way and encouraged public input. However, having said that — I hope that the finance committee is going to continue to stay on top of the situation going foward. I’m not completely comfortable with their long range planning. Perhaps once they get this budget behind them, they can look ahead and encourage a forward thinking approach.

    Just my 2 cents — but overall, my hats off to the school board. Difficult times yet they managed well under the pressure!

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