Archive for Sunday, April 13, 2014

Removal of teacher tenure evaded usual scrutiny, but proponents say measure was warranted

April 13, 2014


— The proposal that does away with teacher tenure in Kansas was added to a school finance bill without any public input and lacks only Gov. Sam Brownback's signature to become state law.

That school finance bill includes $129 million to try to address a Kansas Supreme Court order to increase aid to poor school districts. But it also includes a number of education policy changes that were pushed by conservative Republican leaders in the closing hours of the regular legislative session that ended last week.

While it is not unusual for legislators to package legislation with various bills in order to secure more votes, in almost every instance each of those proposals receives some level of vetting and public input.

But removing teacher tenure received no hearing where members of the public and stakeholders could appear before a legislative committee to testify either for or against or neutral on the measure, or provide expert testimony.

No legislative committee "worked" the proposal, combing through it with legislative staff and voting on any changes and the final product. And unlike many major policy initiatives, which are debated in the media and elsewhere for months, even years, this one was approved almost as soon as it was introduced.

The proposal was presented last weekend as an amendment on the Senate floor and then passed within hours through the Senate and House under the guidance of conservative legislative leaders.

State Sen. Tom Arpke, R-Salina, introduced the amendment and had difficulty answering questions about it later in the debate. When asked by the Lawrence Journal-World where he got the idea for this amendment, he emailed back a link to a video of state Rep. Ward Cassidy, R-St. Francis, speaking during the House GOP caucus on the difficulty he had, when he was a school principal, in getting rid of a bad teacher under the current system.

One of the public supporters of removing teacher tenure was the Kansas chapter of Americans for Prosperity, a nationwide organization that describes itself as "advancing every individual’s right to economic freedom and opportunity." It supports cutting both taxes and government spending and was founded by billionaires Charles and David Koch, who run Wichita-based Koch Industries.

But opponents of the bill cited both the contents of the measure and the process by which it passed as problematic.

"I do not believe that it is good legislative procedure to be making decisions of this magnitude after midnight, particularly when the radical policy changes had not been fully considered with public input during the committee process," said state Sen. Vicki Schmidt, R-Topeka, who voted against the bill.

"This Legislature spends a lot of time and energy speaking about transparency. The procedure regarding the policy changes contained in this bill were clearly not transparent," she said.

While there were no hearings on the proposal, Senate President Susan Wagle said the issue of teacher tenure has been discussed for a while and she adamantly defended her actions.

"District administrators have asked legislators to repeal our tenure law for many years," Wagle said.

According to the Kansas School Superintendent Association's public policy statements, the organization supports the current system of due process rights for teachers "if the process is clarified to allow boards of education to remove teachers as long as such removal is supported by a preponderance of the evidence."

Wagle said, "Since No Child Left Behind became law, administrators and schools have a much greater level of accountability, along with the burden of delivering improved student outcomes. Those outcomes can only be attained if they control their employees instead of the teachers union."

Currently, teachers who have three years' experience are allowed to have a hearing before an independent officer if they are not renewed for work. The Kansas National Education Association says there are about 10 of those due process hearings per year statewide.

The new proposal would repeal that.

KNEA says that without the protection of administrative hearings teachers may be dismissed for political reasons, such as failing to give a good grade to a star athlete, or for trying to fight school administrators to get special education services for a student.

Gay rights advocates also contend the proposed change could open up the way for dismissals based on sexual orientation.

But supporters of repeal say it currently takes too long to get rid of incompetent teachers. They say they are required to file numerous documents and fight with attorneys.

"The unions are crying 'sour grapes', but I'm cheering for all those families and kids who in the future will have teachers who love their job, love their students, and want each and every child to succeed. It was the right thing to do," Wagle said.

The KNEA, however, said, "We believe that members of the Kansas Legislature who promoted this bill by voting for it, took extraordinary measures to do so without public scrutiny, under the cover of darkness, in an effort to ram through harmful policy."


Lee Henry 4 years ago

Susan Wagle must have her head in the sand...this amendment will scare good students away from wanting to be teachers...knowing that 10-20 years down the road they could be let go just to get a lower paid teacher brought in....and teachers will be afraid top give out a just grade in fear of upsetting a parent and getting fired for not changing the grade to appease that parent...and etc etc......

William Weissbeck 4 years ago

By now, no one should doubt that ALEC and its affiliates write all of the legislation. The legislators just show up to vote. Given that the legislature had a pretty good idea what the Supreme Court decision would be, I wouldn't be surprised but that the legislature didn't have this as the game plan all along. When forced to increase funding, they knew that would be the time to tack on this other stuff that wouldn't survive the light of day on its own.

4 years ago

I find it impossible to believe that teachers will be fired for such trivial reasons as the posters above are giving as examples. I think there is a perception with some that no matter how bad a teacher is or what they do, or don't do by simply showing up and being in a classroom for a certain number of hours a day, they can't be fired as long as they have tenure.

Teaching is one of the cornerstones of society, it is not an abstract concept it connects to us and with us all of our lives as we go to school and then see children and grandchildren go to school

Amy Varoli Elliott 4 years ago

Teachers are fired everyday, they just no longer need a single reason to do it anymore. Don't confuse college tenure and k-12, they are completely different animals. That said school districts can still do the right thing here and keep tenure as part of their contract with the teachers.

Bob Forer 4 years ago

You find it "Impossible??????” You would probably also find it impossible to believe that an innocent people could ever be wrongfully convicted and/or executed for the crime of capital murder.

I got news for you buddy; the number of documented wrongful murder convictions in this country is in the dozens, and increasing every year.

If people are wrongfully convicted of capital murder where due process safeguards are extraordinarily protective of the rights of the accused, it logically follows that wrongful terminations do occur from time to time in the teaching profession where due process rights are much more narrowly circumscribed.

What type of immunity do professional school administrations enjoy from negligence or deliberate and wrongful termination of their teachers that has obviously eluded the many professional (and sometimes dishonest) prosecutors, police, and judges who have been parties to dozens of wrongful murder convictions.

Either you are exceptionally naive or intellectually dishonest to suggest such occurrences are "impossible."

4 years ago

Bob, buddy, I am never intellectually dishonest so I will go with exceptionally naive because I do find it very difficult to think that anyone would be that petty and mean though of course there is plenty of evident to the contrary. Okay having thought this thought, you are right, Bob, though I find it very sad.

Obviously I phrased it badly, now I am thinking that I want it to be impossible for these things to happen. I am a woman so I must put away childish wishing, but I can do so without accepting wrongness. I can vote, I can gather information, I can make an effort to right a wrong.

Teachers of all levels must be able to have strong, intellectual discussions within their classrooms where all ideas are tolerated as long as they as stated in honesty and not just to distract. Students only learn if they are graded honestly so they can know where they are weak in academics and work to become stronger.

Leslie Swearingen

PS Is it impossible to have both an avatar and a name?

Dorothy Hoyt-Reed 4 years ago

To whomever the poster is above, who is posting without a name, I'm glad in your world no one would harm a good teacher, because that teacher won't give a passing grade to a good athlete, or give a grade to a plagiarized paper. But in the real world this will happen. Now most districts will not allow this to happen. Hopefully the "evil" unions will negotiate sensible processes to protect teachers. But there are places where this pettiness will occur.

There has always been a way to get rid of bad teachers, if the administration would do their jobs. It sounds like Mr. Cassidy wasn't willing to do his job. And if Ms. Wagle really thinks that young people will want to stay here and teach in a state that is 42nd in teacher pay, and has no protections to ensure that a teacher isn't fired for work place politics, then she is living in a fantasy world as well.

By work place politics, I don't mean who they vote for, which we have been assured won't happen, because it is their constitutional right. But I have worked a lot of places, in a lot of fields, and petty workplace politics abound everywhere. A teacher shouldn't have to become "yes man" to a principal just to keep his/her job. Teachers are professionals whose advice and guidance should be heeded by principals, parents, and politicians, not forced to keeping their mouths shut about educational matters, so they can protect their livelihood.

Bob Forer 4 years ago

You are absolutely right, Dorothy. Every profession has its share of bureaucratic tyrants who are very capable of wrongfully causing great professional and personal harm to those they supervise.

Having demoractic safeguards in place to prevent such injustice in the public workplace is dictated not only by our country's stong democratic traditions, but also by basic human decency.

Sadly, our own government has become indecent.

4 years ago

Thank you Amy, you are right, I was doing exactly that and Dorothy my name disappeared when I put my avatar on, I have no idea why. When my child was in school I followed her classwork quite closely and even read her textbooks. If she had gotten a bad grade I would have talked to her first about it and how that could be turned around. Which to me is common sense.

I do agree with you about the athletes which I had totally not thought about, and now I am wondering if teachers are pressured when it comes to students whose parents are well to do and/or prominent in the community.

Leslie Swearingen

Richard Heckler 4 years ago

Susan Wagle and Sam Brownback are both working for ALEC. They should be honest about this however they know to be up front with the voters on this issue would defeat both of them at the polls.

The ALEC Party is simply NOT desirable among the masses. The GOP objectives at state and congressional levels are basically twins which is KILLING public Education = handing over to private industry = huge profits.

The ALEC platform is defunding and dismantling public education. The ALEC party members want to be shrewd and deceptive of which the ALEC Party gets high marks. However more dishonesty in politics is not welcome.

ALEC Party Agenda to Defund and Dismantle Public Education can be reviewed at these websites.

Richard Heckler 4 years ago

Why is it that the Kansas GOP wants to be able to hire teachers without credentials?

Why is it the Kansas GOP wants to pay teachers less and less for job that demands so much?

Mike Ford 4 years ago

It's a good thing my mother didn't live to see how these politicians disrespect teachers. They did enough of this when she was alive in places like Emporia and Burlington, KS.

Larry Sturm 4 years ago

Passing a shady bill in the middle of the night is not open government.

Larry Sturm 4 years ago

Just because one senator had a problem getting rid of a probable bad teacher the senator might be the problem.

Mike Ford 4 years ago

HEY're going to own this running away....

Dorothy Hoyt-Reed 4 years ago

You know what will probably happen? Brownback will probably line item veto, coming to the "rescue" of the teachers, so he'll look good. Then all will be forgotten, unless he gets reelected. And I'm sure Sen. Vicki Schmidt, R-Topeka is going to become a target of the extremists. Watch Americans for Prosperity pour money into defeating her whenever she is next up for reelection. Don't forget in November.

James Howlette 4 years ago

He can't line item veto it. It's not a spending measure.

Bob Forer 4 years ago

Even if he could, I doubt he would. Public expenditures on education dwarf all other categories, and are the single item where significant spending cuts could significantly lower the amount of taxes the very wealthy pay. Organized and strong teachers unions are the remaining major impediment to deep cuts in education That is specifically why the republicans pushed through a law last year prohibiting union dues deductions from teacher paychecks. Initially, the reasons cited for the law was that they didn't feel public tax dollars should be used to adminster such programs. When the teachers' unions agreed to pay for those administrative costs, a different and equally dishonest reason was given, and the proposed legislation was enacted.

The intent of the right wing is clearly evident: Bust the teachers unions and remove the sole organized voice for decent public schools, all in the name of further lining the pockets of the very wealthy who have already amassed more wealth than they could ever hope to spend in several lifetimes.

The right wing republicans are hardly statesmen. On the contrary, they are scoundrels and sycophants for the super wealthy.

Bob Forer 4 years ago

Traditional democratic principles and practices should very rarely be deliberately circumvented, and only in exceptionally rare circumstances involving dire state or national emergencies. This is clearly not one of them.

Folks, we are losing are democracy, not only in Kansas, but througout the entire nation.

We have entered a very sad chapter of our country's history. The future does not look promising to those of us who love and cherish the democratic values of our once great nation.

Bob Forer 4 years ago

Traditional democratic principles and practices should very rarely be deliberately circumvented, and only in exceptionally rare circumstances involving dire state or national emergencies. This is clearly not one of them.

Folks, we are losing are democracy, not only in Kansas, but througout the entire nation.

We have entered a very sad chapter of our country's history. The future does not look promising to those of us who love and cherish the democratic values of our once great nation.

Larry Sturm 4 years ago

Since when has Brownback ever vetoed anything he and the legislature have been bought.

Ted Morehouse 4 years ago

This is really well written article about why tenure should not be granted to most grade school teachers.

James Howlette 4 years ago

Actually, it's a terrible article that generalizes situations that don't apply to Kansas and repeats a lot of faulty reasoning commonly used by conservatives to justify mistreating teachers. Sorry. Try again.

Mark Pickerel 4 years ago

"State Sen. Tom Arpke, R-Salina, introduced the amendment and had difficulty answering questions about it later in the debate."

Why am I not surprised at this?

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