Lt. Gov. Mark Hutchison calls for reform of teacher protection rules
If Nevada doesn’t reform rules that currently protect teachers based on seniority rather than performance, Lt. Gov. Mark Hutchison says the state is just setting itself up for a lawsuit like the one which threw out those rules in California.
The decision issued last June found those and other rules were unconstitutional because they prevented a school district in Los Angeles from getting rid of bad teachers.
Superior Court Judge Rolf Treu agreed with parents of nine students who sued the existing statutes “result in grossly ineffective teachers obtaining and retaining permanent employment and that these teachers are disproportionately situated in schools serving low-income and minority students.”
He said all sides agree competent teachers are “a critical if not the most important component of success,” of a student and grossly ineffective teachers undermine that goal.
Therefore, he wrote, laws protecting senior but ineffective teachers who are then dumped in poor schools violates the fundamental constitutional right of those students to equality of education.
Hutchison said Nevada teachers have most of the same seniority protections as their counterparts in California including the “last in first out” rule that says the newest teachers are the first victims of layoffs.
Nevada doesn’t use a tenure system but, a three-year probationary system after which he said the teacher is effectively tenured. The 2011 Legislature changed Nevada law to allow those teachers to be put back on probation for poor reviews which can lead to dismissal. But that process can be superceded by collective bargaining agreements which protect the teacher or administrator from being fired and critics say the process of firing a teacher could take years and cost thousands of dollars.
He said unless Nevada’s rules are changed, this state is going to see a similar lawsuit. He said other states are already seeing the pressure to change the rules and two lawsuits challenging seniority protections have already been filed in New York State.
The decision is being challenged but Hutchison, himself a lawyer, said he believes it’s going to stand.
Hutchison said he plans to amend Nevada Senate Bill 92, which currently implements federally mandated changes to the law regarding teacher contracts, to address the ruling in Vergara v. California and the California Teachers Association.
Specifically, he said the amended bill would require when a school district reduces its cadre of teachers, the decision to lay off a teacher or administrator “will be made on performance, the way a teacher performs in the classroom.”
“Seniority would no longer be subject to collective bargaining,” he said.
Hutchison said his plan also tries to address what Judge Treu referred to as “the dance of the lemons” — where bad teachers are routinely moved from school to school rather than fired.
“So principals and administrators would have a say in which teachers they get in their classrooms,” he said.
The principal or administrator — and the teacher — would have to agree to moving that teacher to a given school.
Hutchison said that would be effective because, he said, the administrators and other teachers know who the weak teachers are.
He said if Nevada doesn’t deal with the issue, that lawsuit is coming.
“If we don’t deal with teacher quality issues and disproportionate allocation of poor teachers to poor schools, parents and teachers may seek a legal remedy because Vergara says this situation is unconstitutional,” he said.