Reality de novo: House and Senate move to change process for dismissing bad teachers
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Published: 09-Mar-2011
CapitolBeatOK Staff Report

Published 09-Mar-2011
 
State lawmakers voted today (Wednesday, March 9) to streamline the process for firing poor-performing or ineffective teachers, potentially saving tens of thousands of dollars for state schools. Both the House and Senate passed measures which, in different ways, would shift school employment decisions away from union rules and toward management, either school boards or administrators.
 
House Bill 1380, by state Rep. Corey Holland, would increase the power of local school boards. Under the legislation, if an administrator recommends dismissing a teacher, that educator would have the right to a hearing before the local board of education, which would make the final decision on the issue.
 
“Under my legislation, the process begins when the board hires a teacher, and the process would end with the board if a teacher needs to be fired,” said Holland, a Marlow Republican who is a former teacher. “This empowers local school boards elected by local parents to make the decisions necessary to provide the best education to local children.”
 
Currently, if a board decides to terminate a contract, teachers can appeal the firing in district court, an expensive and time-consuming process that would be eliminated by House Bill 1380.
 
Holland noted that the current process to fire even the worst teacher can take more than one year and cost school districts between $80,000 and $100,000 per case.
 
The Oklahoman recently reported that it cost Purcell Public Schools around $80,000 to fire a teacher later charged with lewd acts with a child.
 
“With the financial situation facing schools today, most districts will choose to save money and not fire poor performing teachers, leaving them in the classroom to the detriment of students,” Holland said. “The purpose of our schools is student learning. When the decision is made not to pursue firing an ineffective teacher, student learning is negatively impacted. Our children deserve to have a quality teacher in every classroom, and I believe this bill is a strong step towards achieving that goal.”
 
Teachers would still have several protections not afforded to most private-sector employees, Holland noted. First, teachers would have to be put on a plan of improvement and fail to boost performance before contracts could be terminated. In addition, to be fired teachers would have to demonstrate a clear and continued pattern of misconduct or incompetence.
 
“At the Capitol, school administrators have advocates who lobby for their causes and teachers have advocates who represent their views, but no one really stands up for the children in our schools,” Holland said. “This bill advocates for the right of students to have a good teacher and a quality education.”
 
House Bill 1380 passed the Oklahoma House of Representatives on a 69-31 vote today. It now proceeds to the state Senate.
 
While H.B. 1380 gained comfortable majority support, advocates had to work hard to get the “emergency clause” attached, the provision through which a new law takes effect immediately after a governor’s signature.
 
H.B. 1380 was apparently another target for a small band of conservative Republicans, willing to work with a united House Democratic caucus, who are maneuvering to withhold emergency provisions, apparently for reasons unrelated to the merits of particular bills.
 
Wednesday at 10:04 a.m., the emergency for H.B. 1380 passed with just enough votes (68) to be included as part of the measure that now advances to the Senate. Getting to that 68 votes was a chore for the bill’s supporters, however, as revealed in an examination of recorded votes the past two days.
 
State Rep. Mike Reynolds of Oklahoma City opposed the emergency, and two minutes earlier had missed a vote on the motion to reconsider the emergency clause.
 
The bill’s handlers sought that vote after failure of the emergency clause in a Tuesday (March 8) vote at 5:05 p.m., when the margin was 67-33. When the bill had passed on its merits in “third reading” at 5:03 p.m., Rep. Reynolds had voted with the 69-33 majority.
 
Also part of that Tuesday 5:03 p.m. majority was state Rep. Mike Ritze of Broken Arrow. Two minutes later, Ritze opposed the emergency clause. Today at 10:02 a.m, Ritze missed the motion to reconsider on H.B. 1380’s emergency. He then voted for the emergency at 10:04 a.m.
 
State Rep. Randy Terrill of Oklahoma City missed Wednesday’s final vote on the emergency, and the earlier vote on the motion to reconsider. On Tuesday, he supported both the emergency and the bill itself.
 
Terrill was one of two Republicans who voted to withhold the emergency clause from House Bill 2139 on Monday.
 
Another significant Republican reform measure, H.B. 2139 would trim some powers of the state Board of Education, and enhance the authority of the superintendent of public instruction.
 
As detailed in this week’s CapitolBeatOK story on H.B. 2139, five other Republicans, including Ritze and Reynolds, were not on the House floor for that “emergency” vote.
 
In the Senate, also on March 9, Sen. John Ford of Bartlesville won approval on a measure to end the cumbersome process now required to terminate a bad teacher — a process that can cost a school district tens of thousands of dollars and several months to resolve. 
 
Senate Bill 1 would end the process known as trial de novo, which currently gives teachers the right to appeal a school board’s decision to district court.
 
“Good teachers will not be threatened by this bill.  Good teachers will have significantly greater protection with this legislation than most Oklahomans have in the private sector,” said Ford, Senate Education Committee Chairman.
 
“The problem now is that school districts can find the process so expensive and time-consuming that it is easier to transfer the bad teacher to a low-performing school where parents are less likely to complain.  If anything those are the children who need the very best teachers.”
 
Ford also pointed to news reports about the Purcell case cited in House press releases as an argument for his bill.
 
“There are other examples as well.  It is unfair to the students, unfair to the vast majority of good, dedicated teachers, unfair to the parents and unfair to taxpayers who foot the bill for these prolonged challenges,” said Ford, who represents Craig, Nowata and Washington counties. 
 
“The local board has the authority to hire teachers—this simply restores their ability to fire bad teachers.”
 
In the Senate, all Democrats opposed S.B. 1. Joining them was Sen. Ralph Shortey of Oklahoma City. Sen. Harry Coates, a Seminole Republican, did not vote.
 
The bill carried 30-17.
 
NOTE: Editor Patrick B.McGuigan contributed to this report.

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