<b>HOT TOPIC:</b>  Passionate debate around teachers and their employment is nothing new. Cami and Jack Stevens protested at a school board meeting in 2007.

Paul Wellman

HOT TOPIC: Passionate debate around teachers and their employment is nothing new. Cami and Jack Stevens protested at a school board meeting in 2007.

Teacher Tenure Struck Down

Landmark Ruling Looks to Weed Lemons from Public Education

Thursday, June 19, 2014
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School may be out for summer, but a passionate debate about teacher tenure is still in session. Last week, a Los Angeles Superior Court judge struck down job-protection laws deeply embedded in public education.

Beginning in late January, the trial saw two months of mixed testimonies. The plaintiffs argued that five statutes protecting K-12 teacher jobs are cumbersome, handcuff superintendents, and deny students access to equitable education. On the opposing end, attorneys for the State of California and its teachers’ union argued that the lawsuit brought forward by nine student plaintiffs was a misguided attack that does not address systemic problems that plague public schools.

Though the ruling in Vergara v. California has not yet taken effect and will likely be hashed out in an appeal, the groundbreaking verdict has riled up educators and politicians and resumed an age-old discussion. At the crux of Judge Rolf Treu’s decision is the notion that the worst teachers are unduly situated in schools serving underrepresented pupils. Treu cited evidence that 1-3 percent of California’s 275,000 tenured teachers are “grossly ineffective”; California is one of only five states with a probationary period of two years or less and one of 10 states that works on a “last in, first out” principle; the entire dismissal process takes two to 10 years and can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars; additionally, all public employees are still protected by “Skelly Rights,” which requires a pre-disciplinary hearing before termination.

Contrary to popular belief, it’s not impossible to fire tenured teachers, but the dismissal process is rarely completed. A number of off-the-record interviews indicated that perhaps just one teacher had been successfully terminated in the last several years in Santa Barbara. “You get gun-shy,” said Unified School District Boardmember Ed Heron. “It is just too costly and timely. So it happens in other ways ​— ​encourage people to retire or resign their position.” For Santa Barbara teachers, the dismissal process begins by being referred to Peer Assistance and Review (PAR), which is a coaching program that many districts pay for. Approximately five teachers are referred to PAR annually, according to Margaret Christensen, director of Human Resources.

But teachers’ union leaders across the country have scorned the judge’s decision, contending that the plaintiffs are actually fronts for Silicon Valley bigwigs, who, despite scarce classroom experience, seek to privatize education. “The union is not here to protect bad teachers,” said Santa Barbara Teachers Association President John Houchin. “Every two years, teachers are evaluated for performance, based on six teaching standards.”

Reaction to the decision has united traditional political foes ​— ​conservatives who have long bashed the premise of public-employee unions and social-justice activists who advocate for minority communities. Treu stated that the ruling does not seek to address the issue’s political aspects but focuses on the legal ones, and may require state legislators to start writing new laws if upheld.

By Paul Wellman

SUM OF ITS PARTS: Representing 750 teachers in the district, Santa Barbara teachers’ union president John Houchin argued that educators as a group bring different strengths to the profession.

Origin of Tenure

The person behind the two-year probationary period in California is Gary K. Hart, former state legislator for Santa Barbara and founder of an institute for education reform. “I personally feel that it is an important decision because it will force a public debate that is long overdue,” Hart said of the ruling. In 1983, Hart authored a hefty package of education reform bills ​— ​securing bipartisan support and money for schools ​— ​which shrunk the probationary period from three years to two. Before 1983, administrators had a difficult time terminating even probationary teachers, but because of the measure, they were given a window to dismiss without the laborious process.

Always controversial, tenure in education strengthened in the 1960s, but it dates back to the turn of the 20th century when teachers were dismissed for arcane reasons. As the California law currently stands, new teachers must either be dismissed or granted permanent status within the first two years on the job. However, administrators have to grant tenure within 18 months because the decision not to “reelect” a probationary educator must be made before the state deadline of March 15.

One consequence is that administrators may opt to dismiss new teachers whom they may have been on the fence about, leaving fresh educators with potential without work. “There’s got to be a better way,” Heron added. “Obviously it can’t be personal. There’s got to be a systematic way to evaluate the teaching pool.” In the past two years, 20 probationary teachers in the Santa Barbara Unified School District have been dismissed before their permanent status kicked in.

Complicating the matter further, the district currently employs 48 temporary teachers, whose salaries are paid for by “soft” money. These instructors receive “end-of-assignment” notices every March and must wait until the next year’s budget is finalized before finding out if they’ve gotten their job back. “The new teachers have nowhere to go, and that is frustrating,” said Simon Dixon, president of Washington Elementary School’s Parent Teacher Organization. Dixon explained that Washinton has lost great teachers who were low in the “pecking order.” Though the number of temporary teachers has declined in the past several years ​— ​there were 122 temps in 2009 ​— ​a portion has remained in such status for multiple years.

By Paul Wellman

IN THE TRENCHES: Last week’s tentative ruling has ignited a lively discussion about the classroom environment, seen here in Ms. Sawicki’s class at Cleveland Elementary School.

Public Screams, Legislators Scurry

The last time permanent teacher status grabbed headlines was in 2012 after an especially egregious case in the Los Angeles Unified School District in which a teacher allegedly fed semen to his elementary school students. Instead of engaging in the lengthy dismissal process, the district settled with the teacher for $40,000. A public outcry prompted state legislators to act on an Assembly bill that would have given a school board final say on dismissals for heinous crimes, instead of the three-person panel made up of a judge and two educators.

At the time, union leaders ardently opposed the bill, which became trapped in the education committee; 35th District representative Das Williams along with three others abstained from the vote. Following two years of legislative wrangling, a reformed version of that measure ​— ​AB 215 ​— ​has been endorsed by the teachers’ union and will likely be signed by the governor soon. This means egregious cases would be heard by a judge sitting alone ​— ​instead of the three-person panel. Deadlines for the appeal process for all dismissal cases would also be implemented. In a recent interview with The Santa Barbara Independent, Williams said he’s “proud to live up to a promise to his constituents” to pass a bill that protects students from harm while honoring due process.

Dismissal: What It Actually Takes

“If a teacher is unsatisfactory,” said Santa Barbara schools Superintendent David Cash, “I believe it’s the principal’s obligation to make them a satisfactory [teacher] with coaching, professional learning, and support sitting in the classroom.” If a flagged teacher remains unsatisfactory after Peer Assistance and Review, the district notifies the employee in writing of the charges against him or her, and a “Skelly hearing” takes place. If the district decides to proceed with dismissal ​— ​and the school board concurs ​— ​the teacher may appeal the decision, and a hearing that is conducted by a three-person panel ensues. Attorneys would likely be involved in every step, said Christensen, and if the employee is successful in the appeal, he or she retains the position and the district must pay for the teacher’s attorney’s fees.

In 2005, district administrators embarked on a five-year dismissal process with a high school teacher, who was accused of making anti-Semitic remarks and forcibly removing a student wearing an Israeli police T-shirt. The case went all the way to the state Courts of Appeal, which cleared his name. The panel determined the teacher was fit to run a classroom. He was reinstated at Santa Barbara High School, where he still works. The district spent roughly $1 million on the entire process, including paid leave of approximately $60,000 each year.


Independent Discussion Guidelines

dolphinpod14 (anonymous profile)
June 19, 2014 at 1:33 a.m. (Suggest removal)

The whole concept of tenure is outrageous. It would harm any business to not be able to dismiss employees as needed. But bloated government bureaucracies don't care about the bottom line so things like this exist.

tinamedinaz (anonymous profile)
June 19, 2014 at 9:13 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Tenor is ridiculous and the fact that unions exist not to provide better education, but solely to protect their members (and themselves) is the problem. Whether its the backassward pay scale or the fact that its almost impossible to remove a bad teacher, the unions continue to prove that they dont give a rats ass about the children, only themselves.

As long as we allow inept, incompetent un-inspiring people to remain as teachers, we will continue to slip further and further down the ladder.

iamsomeguyinsb (anonymous profile)
June 19, 2014 at 9:40 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Yes, I tend to think tenors are ridiculous too. In fact, a soprano or an alto is much more preferable, but they're usually prima donnas. Tenors are great for barbershop quartets, but that's all, maybe a gospel choir.

blahblahmoreblah (anonymous profile)
June 19, 2014 at 12:39 p.m. (Suggest removal)

That argument is baseless. Especially since you only mentioned tenors, altos and sopranos.

Botany (anonymous profile)
June 19, 2014 at 1:08 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Botany, you some kind of aria diva?

blahblahmoreblah (anonymous profile)
June 19, 2014 at 2:50 p.m. (Suggest removal)

What would Renee Fleming think of this?

dolphinpod14 (anonymous profile)
June 19, 2014 at 4:56 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Taking on teacher tenure issues this way will certainly backfire. Yeah, I can accept the jazzy subtitle to this article, "Ruling Looks to Weed Lemons from Public Education" -- but Judge Treu's decision will NOT improve our public teaching corps. As Jesse Rothstein wrote in NYTimes, firing bad educators won't close the achievement gap, although the judge is correct that "the worst teachers are unduly situated in schools serving underrepresented pupils."
The fact is we have an oncoming HUGE teacher shortage, and eliminating job security will NOT attract the best and brightest of undergrads into teaching. Firing bad teachers -- and of course the worst should be kicked out -- still will not attract and retain GOOD teachers, and these are what kids desperately need. When teachers are summarily fired the impact on a school's culture is negative for student learning and negative for esprit d'corps. You will never get rid of all the bad teachers, but you can surely scare the heck out of top graduates pondering a teaching career in California.
While we often read in the anti-teacher press -- e.g. the LA Times's lurid stories of yes one horrible semen-feeding teacher -- it should strike thoughtful readers that only "1 - 3 percent of California’s 275,000 tenured teachers are 'grossly ineffective' ” . A witchhunt vs. teachers will make it even more difficult to locate, hire, and retain great young teachers.

DrDan (anonymous profile)
June 19, 2014 at 5:31 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Stay focused on the ruling. No one expects one ruling to fix education in this state. This ruling was unique in that it interpreted the Education Code in favor of the students, instead of the adults. The courts are the proper venue to unravel the Education Code.

JarvisJarvis (anonymous profile)
June 19, 2014 at 9:31 p.m. (Suggest removal)

JJ has it dead on. Finally, someone other than the teachers union, namely the students, is the focus. Of course this won't change achievment overnight; parents have to begin caring about their kids performance as well. But this is a paradigm shift. Only one other state offered job security for life after less than 2 years. Over time we should go back to free market wages which will mean increased pay up front without the promise of a non sustainable pension whether or not you are good at your job.

nomoresanity (anonymous profile)
June 20, 2014 at 8:11 a.m. (Suggest removal)

John Houchin says that SB teachers are evaluated every two years based upon six teaching standards. However, the problem is that a teacher who clears that one formal evaluation is granted tenure on the first day of year three!

The large majority of administrators simply do not want to fight teacher unions & organization. Hence, they look the other way & hope the weak educator will either get better or eventually leave. Sure, the site administrator gets the poor teacher "help," but is this really effective?

What Houchin fails to mention is how many of those teachers are not rehired & sent packing. From my experience, very few.

Sadly, the large majority of people that are talented at something simply can't teach kids between K - 12. You have to know what makes kids "tick" first!

Tenure worked many years ago, but we have changed as a country & can't continue protecting an institution that is in a huge state of flux.

I say make the teachers WORK to keep their jobs just like most another businesses. After all, these are our future leaders & workers & they need to be ready for whatever comes their way.

Barron (anonymous profile)
June 20, 2014 at 9:38 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Sheesh, Barron, along with JarvisFooJarvis, you must know little about teachers and teaching: they ALREADY WORK to keep their teaching sharp and to stimulate students! What a ridiculous line, "make the teachers WORK to keep their jobs" -- public school teachers I know work like crazy.
Surely, you have nomoresanity when writing, "this is a paradigm shift" --hardly!

DrDan (anonymous profile)
June 20, 2014 at 5:04 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Thank You to Ms Brugger and the Indy for highlighting this difficult issue! Dang: hundreds of posters on gun control/IVshooter/Measure M but very little attention to PUBLIC EDUCATION it seems, at least very few posters on this thread.
There is a plot to replace teachers with machines, iPads, laptops, e-learning, and on the college level with MOOCs. Screens will rule their minds! Brugger carefully notes another point of those seeking to wrecking tenure are our digital Lords, who wanna sell their devices to school districts with YOUR tax monies.
When Barron writes "make teachers WORK" he may mean drive the good ones out of public education as we move away, as a society, from honorable "face-to-face" classroom instruction to "laptop U." and control by private businesses like Apple and others.
Agree with most that 5 statues protecting K-12 teacher positions are cumbersome and get in the way of retaining the best/firing the worst teachers. But there's no single magic bullet to solve the very challenging public school education crises -- if we do make probation 3 years (not 2), if we manage to get rid of the "1 - 3%" grossly ineffective teachers, this will not right the ship! Charter Schools won't, and yes, Botany, simply throwing money at schools won't either.
Note: in the past 2 years "20 probationary teachers...have been dismissed". Honestly, the huge issue is FINDING and then RETAINING (and 'growing') great young teachers! As well, the socio-economic conditions the students hail from make the biggest difference -- that can't be surprising to people.
Think of it this way: if Dave Cash could get all the top teachers to work at Harding, and switch many good Harding teachers to say Roosevelt, it will not make a huge difference. Teachers need job tenure and protection -- it isn't an assembly line job, Barron! -- but the process should be simplified and make the probation 3 or 4 years. And Cash is completely correct: the principals have to have a pair and outright dismiss incompetent teachers in the first 2 years.

DrDan (anonymous profile)
June 20, 2014 at 6:38 p.m. (Suggest removal)

The teachers I know in this town support this ruling, at least privately, The argument that California teachers should have guaranteed job security faster than all but one state is bizarre. How strange that the tenure system, largely instituted when teaching was a predominantly female profession in order to protect that skewed demographic, was twisted over the past 4 decades in order to take any sanity from the employee/employer relationship. California is an at-will state. Education Administrators can be fired according to the at-will laws of California; but not the precious teachers under their control.
If the corrupt Teachers Union is held to task; unlikely considering the left leaning state legislature, then in a few years we will have:
Higher starting and eventual salaries for teachers(albeit the average teacher salary, in Marin County for example, is $75k for 9 months work and enormous pension);
A sustainable pension system;
Attraction of better qualified teachers to the higher salaries and accountability.

nomoresanity (anonymous profile)
June 21, 2014 at 7:38 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Tenure as protection for academic freedom is no longer necessary in today's educational environment of ideological homogeneity. Tenure does not protect the free flow of ideas. Tenure today only protects jobs.

JarvisJarvis (anonymous profile)
June 21, 2014 at 8:10 a.m. (Suggest removal)

When I attended Suzy Ra Ra Public High School, my algebra II teacher did not teach, he was almost retired. He sat at his desk, we did the homework in class and we were allowed to approach his desk and ask a question or quietly ask a neighbor, that was it, an entire year wasted, trying to learn all we could from the book.

Trigonometry, we had a newly minted teacher, very nice and engaged but she did not know the material, another wasted year.

Only my algebra I teacher was any good and she was just extraordinary.

Three out of four years, wasted on teachers that should have not been there or needed to retire several years before I had them.

I was talking to a 12 year-old German National, last summer, she spoke 3 languages and was learning a fourth, as well as solid foundation in mathematics.

Our educational system has become lost compared to other countries.

howgreenwasmyvalley (anonymous profile)
June 24, 2014 at 9:04 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Howgreenwasmyvalley, JarvisJarvis & nomoresanity are spot on seeing through this topic.

Tenure today does more to protect weak, under performing teachers than to promote best of the profession.

How about really turning up merit pay for the ones who "deliver the goods?"

Let the students do teacher evaluations along with their parents. That's been done in colleges everywhere to a degree - where students rate professors in the course catalogs. Does the college admin see these? You're darn right! I have a few college admin-type friends and they absolutely use those comments to focus on specific teachers who get the glowing & opposite comments quarter after quarter.

This could also work at a lower level.

Tenure? Forgetabout it.

Barron (anonymous profile)
June 24, 2014 at 9:19 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Tenure should be changed to three years, OK, but the administrator-in-charge needs to be extremely CEO/hard core and go beyond Dave Cash's comment, “I believe it’s the principal’s obligation to make them a satisfactory [teacher] with coaching, professional learning, and support sitting in the classroom[.]” he should've ADDED: 'and dismiss them when this doesn't work after 18 months of "helping'. Having taught in private education many years, the top principals simply have to have the courage and ideals to cut some teachers before tenure kicks in.
However, DrDan is correct that a massive issue is finding great new teachers AND retaining the good ones we have -- eliminating tenure is stupid in terms of these two needs. Barron, having "students" vote on best teachers is worthless, just so you know.
Agree, HowGreen, about German students, but note that by 12 or 13 most German academic students have been pre-selected for elite Jr and Senior High Schools so... the student you spoke to is a gifted learned in an elitist system. We in USA claim we offer public education to all, but we do NOT fund it properly, we don't fire the bad teachers fast enough, we don't train teachers properly, and if we end tenure we eliminate a huge job-luring ability.

DavyBrown (anonymous profile)
June 24, 2014 at 12:17 p.m. (Suggest removal)

68% of SB School district funds never see a classroom or a teacher - they go to admins or administrative staff retirement benefits.

In 1956, 72% when to the classroom/teachers as a share of budget.

53% of SB school district overall budget (2011 latest figure) goes to teaching, feeding and remedial educating, special educating and disciplining illegal immigrant children or the American born children of illegal immigrants.

In 1956, the district spent $2,457 per pupil in today's dollars. Now - adjusted for inflation, the district spends $6,011.

Student scores have barely budged in 40 years.
Drop out rates are 27% higher than 1971.
The average admin earns $127,000 in base salary, retirement and health care benefits.
The average teacher with 10 years or more experience earns $109,000 in base, retirement and and health benefits.

There are 4.3 admins for every teacher in SB school district.
In 1956 there were 1.2 admins for every teacher.

Clearly if we just give a lot of more money to public schools, things will get better., That's the clear answer.

realitycheck88 (anonymous profile)
June 24, 2014 at 5:03 p.m. (Suggest removal)

I knew a girl in another life. She was one hell of a teacher. She graduated college in 1977 and could only get a job at a small private school which required a 1.5 hr. x 2 drive to work, often times on Saturday.

She finally got picked up as a yearly temp at a Public School, driving 1.0 hr x 2, she worked long hours often to 8pm in the evening making her classroom special and her lesson plans complete. But as a temp she was only picked up at the last moment each year before getting a classroom for the year, always playing catch up with her last minute assignment. It got old, she had lesson plans and supporting classroom items for Grades 1-6.

After five years of bashing her head against the union ceiling, erected to keep new comers out, she quit, so the world lost another great teacher.

howgreenwasmyvalley (anonymous profile)
June 24, 2014 at 5:37 p.m. (Suggest removal)

good story, HowGreen, and I know it well... perhaps this is a plot by privatizing freaks like realityWilly88 to starve public education, make it horrible for the exceptional teachers there [there are so many in public schools!!!], so they eventually either quit like your friend, or more likely they join the ranks of private schools where they pay is worse, the benefits are much worse, there is no job security at all (one-year contracts)...BUT the working conditions are generally excellent, and all the teachers really care for the children and teach carefully and with passion.

DavyBrown (anonymous profile)
June 24, 2014 at 5:58 p.m. (Suggest removal)

The average administrator works a 12 month year. The average teacher works a 9 month year. Apply this formula when comparing pay schedules.

To decrease the numbers of administrators, reform the number of state regulations administrators are now mandated to regulate.

Streamline the Education Code. Have teachers assume more of the administrator duties.

JarvisJarvis (anonymous profile)
June 24, 2014 at 7:34 p.m. (Suggest removal)

There are indeed too many administrators, but not so sure about reform of state regulations, that's case by case. Teachers must be paid for 12 mos. work, and get the great State pension you, JarvisfooJarvis, detest. Do NOT move the public school teachers to 401(k) like the private school teachers have to accept since they have no union. But I would not want my fine teachers to take on admin. duties: boring and horrible, but also more $.

DavyBrown (anonymous profile)
June 24, 2014 at 9:03 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Let's get rid of all the County Offices of Education, THAT's a major cut, eh?

DavyBrown (anonymous profile)
June 24, 2014 at 9:07 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Teachers may take their salary over a 12 month period, but they only work 9 months. (180 days)

This leaves three months time off (summer vacation) to supplement their teaching salary. Or take a three month summer vacation.

Teachers need to absorb the state mandated administrative duties if they want fewer administrators. Or eliminate regulations that require administrative staffing. Decide which option works best.

JarvisJarvis (anonymous profile)
June 24, 2014 at 10:51 p.m. (Suggest removal)

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