Archive for Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Kansas school boards cautioned about using new rules to hire, fire teachers

April 23, 2014

— The Kansas Association of School Boards is urging local boards of education to use caution before taking advantage of new powers granted to them under a school finance bill that Gov. Sam Brownback signed into law Monday.

That bill, which directs more state funding to poor school districts to address equity concerns raised by the Kansas Supreme Court, also includes several policy changes affecting school districts such as repealing tenure rights of veteran teachers and relaxing the licensing requirements for teachers in certain subject areas.

Mark Tallman, KASB's associate executive director for advocacy, said districts should be careful before changing their practices in either of those areas.

In a statement posted on KASB's website Tuesday, Tallman said the repeal of teacher tenure means teachers can be removed, "without the lengthy and expensive hearing officer system now required."

"However, KASB recommends caution in making any changes to current hiring and termination practices at this time," Tallman wrote. "For example, districts could negotiate a local due process system with their teachers."

He also said there may be "unresolved legal issues about how courts would treat teachers who have already received due process rights."

Currently, public school teachers and instructors at state community colleges and technical schools who have been on the job more than three years are entitled to an administrative due process hearing with an impartial hearing officer before they can be summarily dismissed or not renewed for the following year. The bill signed into law this week repeals that right for public school teachers.

The Lawrence school board is currently in negotiation with its teachers union on a new contract for the 2014-2015 school year. And while the board has not yet decided how it will respond to the tenure repeal, board president Rick Ingram said Monday that he believes most board members support the protections that tenure rights had offered.

KASB has long supported changes in the tenure procedure so that hearings could be conducted before school boards, rather than an independent third party.

"We support a system that is fair to employees, students, school boards and the community," Tallman said. "Boards of education should take the time to make sure these interests are appropriately balanced."

The new law also relaxes licensing requirements for career and technical education teachers as well as teachers in the so-called STEM subjects - science, technology, engineering and math. The changes allow districts to hire teachers in those areas, even if they don't have an education degree or specific training in the field of teaching.

Schools may contract with individuals to be career and technical ed instructors if they hold industry-recognized certificates and have five years of related work experience. To teach in a STEM field, individuals now only need a bachelor's degree in the related field and five years of related work experience.

Districts may also hire teachers with a valid license from another state, even if that state's licensing requirements are less stringent than those in Kansas, as long as that teacher passes the state's required tests for those fields.

School boards had lobbied for that change, arguing it will help them recruit teachers in certain hard-to-fill subject areas.

“It will be up to local boards to ensure such individuals are appropriately recruited and evaluated for effectiveness,” Tallman said. “Again, KASB recommends caution and suggests districts consult with teacher licensure experts from the Kansas State Department of Education on this matter.”

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