Columbia school personnel, board express opinions about teacher tenure

Wednesday, January 25, 2012 | 9:00 p.m. CST

COLUMBIA — Columbia teachers' associations and school board members agree that tenure has an important place in education, but lawmakers might consider legislation to remove teacher tenure from Missouri.

The Associated Press reported that Rep. Scott Dieckhaus, House Elementary and Secondary Education Committee chairman, is considering introducing the legislation "perhaps within the week." The issue could also be put on the ballot in November.

The AP also reported that this is part of a larger trend as other states seek to further evaluate teachers based on their performance. The tenure system originated as a way to protect teachers from firing based on discrimination, the report said, and to provide rules about justifying dismissal after their first few years.

To achieve tenure in Missouri, teachers must work in a particular district for five years, during which they are evaluated yearly. These evaluations happen more frequently during their first two years, said Kari Schuster, president of the Columbia Missouri State Teachers Association.

Susan McClintic, president of the Columbia Missouri National Education Association, said tenure provides an evaluation system and can keep teachers from being dismissed because of personal issues. It provides a process where "contracted long-term employees" can fix what might be deemed inappropriate. Administrators can help give the teachers guidelines for improvement.

“Tenure is about having due process,” McClintic said.

According to the Missouri State Teachers Association website, after teachers earn tenure, they “have an indefinite contract with the district" until that contract is modified or terminated. Schuster, who has not yet earned tenure, said teachers are still evaluated every two to three years after receiving tenure.

Schuster said for many teachers, tenure means job security and recognition as a professional.

McClintic said tenure is important, but it isn’t necessarily an issue of job security for teachers. Tenure provides teachers with legal rights and the chance to fix problems that might arise.

The process is not about retaining employees but about having a process where the employer, employee and students are "covered," McClintic said.

School board member Helen Wade said she wouldn’t necessarily be in favor of moving away from teacher tenure. She said it was important to protect teachers from the “prevailing winds of the day” and having to worry about their teaching decisions regarding “hot-button issues.”

However, Wade said there needs to be a mechanism to remove ineffective teachers to ensure students have the best educators. She said if an equivalent form of due process protection were to be developed, she would be open to discussion.

School Board President Tom Rose said tenure hasn’t been a problem in Columbia Public Schools.

“We have ways now that we can remove teachers that are not performing to our satisfaction,” he said.

He said for a teacher to be removed there would need to be some "major fault."

Tying teacher performance to that of their students, though, is tricky, Rose said. Some students naturally perform better, which makes it hard to level the playing field among teachers.

He said his concern about removing teacher tenure is that it could affect teacher morale or create a situation where teachers become more competitive with each other. But he said he wouldn’t be opposed to finding ways to make removing a teacher less cumbersome.

Schuster said the public tends believe that once a teacher acquires tenure, he or she no longer has to work. She said public school teachers are constantly evaluated by their peers, administrators, students and parents.

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