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Columbia Missourian

Columbia education forum focuses on teachers' rights

By Shaina Cavazos
March 17, 2011 | 9:56 p.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — School Board candidates answered questions on issues regarding teachers and other professionals in education Thursday evening at a forum held by the Columbia Missouri National Education Association.

Moderated by association president Susan McClintic, the forum featured questions on topics such as teacher tenure, salary raises and collective bargaining.

Other questions

How would you encourage hourly employees to approach the board with a complaint without fear of their contracts being terminated?

  • "I believe that open communication is critically important in the workplace," Peterson said. "I do think they deserve the opportunity to voice whatever their situation is, and I feel similarly about them as I do about teachers; they are serving our kids."
  • "I feel that there are processes for hourly employees to speak to their supervisors as well as the H.R. department," Sessions said. "I think we have those opportunities in this district."
  • "The board needs to be at least one area that should be open to all communication," Rose said.
  • "It’s up to the board to set policy and, as a result, it is up to us to make sure that the district has a policy of respectful and sincere communication with every one of the employees," Wade said. "I believe we cannot foster a system that makes people fearful about voicing concerns."
  • "There are procedures in place, and I believe that if those procedures aren’t being followed and people are feeling it is unfair, then the board will need to look at the leadership and investigate the situation," Dickson said.
  • "I’m not very partial to the idea that people can’t speak freely," Raithel said.

How do you feel about small autonomous schools in Columbia Public Schools?

  • "I like a lot of ideas that are a part of that," Dickson said. "I like that they are wanting to use role models from the community — scientists, doctors, business leaders — and having them coming into the schools to inspire (children) to greatness."
  • "I am in support of the idea of small autonomous schools," Sessions said. "I think it provides these schools with local control, just continually making a smaller group that can make decisions faster than going through the bureaucracy of the larger district. But I think it's important we still continue to hold these schools to the same performance expectations as any other school."
  • "I keep saying I need more details," Raithel said. "Everyone needs to know how to use a computer, but I am not of the position that technology education solves all the problems we have in society. It does go back to generally literacy."
  • "I’m a neighborhood school romantic," Peterson said. "I think that it would be really nice if we could all walk to school, but I don’t think that’s necessarily realistic for this district. Transition for children is bad for performance; it's bad for achievement." 
  • "I am in support of small autonomous schools for every school in this district if it's going to increase the achievement of every student in that school," Rose said. "I am open to seeing how it performs."
  • "For us to assume that every group of children in every building can be well served by the same thing is just a fallacy," Wade said. "I believe there should be a monitor on the success of this policy. You have to make sure it works."

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McClintic’s first question addressed the bill in the Missouri state legislature that would end tenure for teachers. Candidates Helen Wade, Jonathan Sessions, Dave Raithel and Tom Rose agreed tenure was important to a teacher’s job security and to maintaining due process in contract negotiation.

“The purpose of tenure is not to protect teachers who cannot teach,” Raithel said. “It is to protect the rights of citizens who happen to be teachers.”

Many of the candidates supported tenure but said the system for evaluating teachers is not quite right.

“I am not against tenure, and I don’t think the bill is right yet,” candidate Liz Peterson said. “But I think it’s a little bit like the college bowl system versus switching over to a different system. I think we don’t have a good different system to switch to.”

Candidate Sara Dickson was the only one who said she supported the bill that would remove teacher tenure.

The tenure program makes it very difficult, Dickson said, to get rid of bad teachers. 

Teacher performance was also brought up in a question about whether teachers should still receive raises even though the achievement gap persists.

All the candidates except Dickson said they thought salaries should not be tied to the achievement gap.

“I think that a very large component of student achievement is teachers; they deliver the education to our children,” Wade said. “The assumption underneath that question is: By paying teachers less, we will have a positive impact on achievement, and that’s simply not true.”

“At no point in there has anyone in education said, ‘pay teachers less,’” Raithel said. “I mean, you get that from people in the business community. Well, look what they have done to the economy, and now they think they are going to tell us what to do with education?”

Dickson argued teachers who work harder deserve higher pay, and she does not support broadly giving raises to teachers who put in less work than others.

Dickson was again the only candidate to deviate from the other candidates' opinion on a board policy being put in place. The policy would allow teachers to elect a representative for collective bargaining with the district.

“The issue with an exclusive representative is that we are not giving teachers the freedom to be able to have other organizations they can join,” Dickson said.

Sessions supported the idea of collective bargaining because he said it is the right of educators in this state to get exclusive representation should they feel a need for it.

“If teachers choose that they need an exclusive representative to bargain for them or represent them, then that is their decision,” Wade said. “I expect that everybody will engage in a respectful and sincere dialogue with each other.”