Teachers and other education workers have been bombarded with misinformation about a proposal currently in the Legislature to reform the state’s tenure and fair dismissal laws. It’s a common tactic of special interest groups to bend or withhold the truth in an effort to scare people into protesting legislation.
In this case, teachers and education workers have been told the bill strips educators of tenure.
They’ve been told the bill repeals their right to due process.
So what does SB310, the “Students First Act,” actually do? What’s the truth about this proposal and its effect on teachers, other education workers and the overall education system in Alabama?
Here are some common questions with factual answers that are helpful for understanding this issue.
1. Does this bill take away tenure from teachers and other education employees?
NO. The protection of tenure that education personnel currently have today will remain in effect.
2. Will I lose my current tenure status?
NO. A new teacher or school support staff will still have to work three years to gain tenure status. That is the same amount of time required under the current system. Also every employee that is currently tenured will retain their tenure status.
3. Can a teacher or education personnel can be terminated for any reason or just because the principle does not like them?
Absolutely not. A non-probationary status teacher or support staff employee can only be terminated for reasons already listed in current state statue: Incompetence, Insubordination, Neglect of duty, Immorality, Failure to perform duties in a satisfactory manner, justifiable decrease in the number of positions, Other good and just cause.
4. Does this bill take away the due process rights of teachers or education personnel?
NO. This bill allows for any dismissed education personnel to appeal any decision by the school board to an independent administrative law judge. If the judge rules in favor of the employees and overturns the school board’s decision to dismiss that employee then that employee is awarded back pay and benefits. The current appeals process is handled through federal arbitrators and allows terminated employees to continue to receive salary and benefits no matter how long the arbitration goes on. This process is broken and costs local school systems countless millions in lawyer fees, continued salary payments and substitute teacher hires .
The Case for Reforming Tenure and Fair Dismissal
There has been a “renaissance” of professional development for the teaching profession in Alabama. Programs like the Alabama Reading Initiative and the Alabama Math, Science and Technology Initiative have allowed teachers to grow professionally and improve student performance to the point that Alabama ranks 25th nationally in overall education quality.
There’s no question that the quality of our teachers is at the highest level it has ever been. It’s time Alabama had a tenure law that was as professional as our teachers.
The convoluted and cumbersome nature of Alabama’s “fair dismissal act” makes the dismissal process patently unfair. Why do we have a system that rewards the worst instead of the best?
Our laws should protect teachers who put students first, not reward corruption and complacency from bad apples who have no business in the classroom.
This bill keeps tenure for teachers, protects students from those who might harm them, and gets arbitrators out of the dismissal process.
We should allow local school boards to decide what’s best for our schools rather than federal arbitrators with no ties to Alabama.
Good teachers will never have anything to worry about. But if someone is acting unethically or even breaking the law, they certainly don’t belong in the classroom.
Republicans in the Alabama Legislature are working to pass a bill that will finally reform our state’s teacher tenure and fair dismissal laws. Local School Board members, superintendents, and parents across the state are demanding this reform after years of abuse by trial lawyers and unions.
What kind of abuses?
A teacher in Washington County who was convicted of having sexual relations with one of her students actually received full salary and benefits for TWO YEARS while serving her prison sentence because her lawyers were still appealing her termination. Read the Press-Register story here: http://www.al.com/news/press-register/metro.ssf?/base/news/1243934192145370.xml&coll=3
A school employee in Madison County is still receiving pay today after being arrested for the sexual assault of 10 students. Read the Huntsville Times story here: http://blog.al.com/breaking/2011/04/huntsville_4th_grade_teacher_a.html
Dozens if not hundreds of stories just like these throughout Alabama because state law makes it so difficult for local school systems to dismiss teachers and other school workers who have no business in the classroom.
Summary of SB310, the “Students First Act”
- Under this bill, teachers and classified employees attain tenure upon completing three complete, consecutive school years of full-time employment with the same employer. For this bill, a “complete school year” is defined as being employed prior to October 1st and completing the school year.
- Non-tenured employees may be terminated at the discretion of their employer.
- Tenured employees may only be terminated for certain specified reasons – a justifiable decrease in the number of positions, incompetency, insubordination, neglect of duty, immorality, failure to perform duties in a satisfactory manner, or other good cause – but not for political or personal reasons.
- Tenured employees are provided due process upon termination. The bill outlines the steps employees can take, if necessary, to appeal the decision of the board. In essence, the aggrieved employee would take his or her case to an Administrative Law Judge, who are Attorneys regularly used by the Office of the Attorney General to handle administrative disputes for state agencies. The bill would allow for 265 days to lapse between the date the employee received notice of termination and the date the Administrative Law Judge made his final ruling, a decision appealable to the Court of Civil Appeals.
- Once terminated, the employee would stop receiving salary and benefits. If reinstated by the Administrative Law Judge, however, the employee would receive back pay and benefits.
- The bill empowers employers with the ability, in certain situations, to transfer (within a school system) or reassign (within a school) employees as needs require. Such changes, however, can occur no more than once annually and must occur on or before the 20th day of the school year.
- This bill prohibits tenured teachers from terminating their employment within 30 calendar days before the first day of the next school term and provides that an employer has until June 30th to terminate an employee during the first year of a Legislative quadrennium.