The issue of teacher reassignment was central to the fall 2011 teacher’s strike in Tacoma, and teacher unions testified against the bill during its hearings before a Senate education committee earlier this session.
State Sen. Steve Litzow, R-Mercer Island, said his bill would empower principals to shape their staff in a way that they think would best serve students.
“Principals keep telling me that if we’re going to hold them accountable for their schools … they want more flexibility and control over who their teams are,” Litzow said. “It’s not about good or bad teachers. It’s about the kind of teacher that a principal believes that he has to have in his school to get the best results from his students.”
The bill would require a principal’s approval for a school district to assign a teacher or staff member to that principal’s school.
If the district couldn’t find a place for an employee that is mutually agreeable to both the staff member and the principal, that employee would be eligible for temporary assignment decided by the district. But if a permanent place for the teacher or staff member couldn’t be found within eight months, he or she could be fired.
The bill passed 27-22.
Democrats who voted against the proposal said that it doesn’t protect teachers from being dismissed by prejudicial principals, and that it dodges the essential issue the Legislature should be dealing with when it comes to education this year, which is funding.
The state Supreme Court told the Legislature last January that it wasn’t meeting its constitutional duty to fund basic education, and needs to do so by 2018.
“I would say I’m not willing to support reform bills until we fund our schools,” said state Sen. Steve Conway, D-Tacoma. “Where are we on this?”
Conway added that giving principals veto power over who works for them would upset the process of collective bargaining between school districts and teachers.
We’re saying, ‘we know what’s best, Olympia knows what’s best for all of our school districts,’” Conway said. “It’s a huge attack on the bargaining rights of our school employees.”
State Sen. Christine Rolfes, D-Bainbridge Island, said that she wants to see the Legislature implement the teacher and principal evaluation reforms it passed last year before deciding to change how principals and teachers work together.
“This bill may be useful in a few years, when we have metrics for our teachers, and performance metrics for our principals,” Rolfes said, “But right now it’s a distraction.”
She added: “The root of my opposition to the bill is that from my own experience with schools, sometimes the principal’s the problem, not the teacher.”
UPDATED 2:26 p.m.: Sen. Bruce Dammeier, R-Puyallup, said that the Senate majority party, which consists of 23 Republicans and two Democrats, is going ahead with reform legislation because the McCleary decision also directed the Legislature to improve the system, not just pour more money into it.
“The McCleary decision was very clear about funding, but it was also very clear about reforms,” Dammeier said at a press conference today. “Even the court recognizes that funding alone is not enough. This is about the reform pieces. This is about what are we doing to get different outcomes for our students.”