Effort to limit Missouri teacher tenure challenged

Tuesday, June 17, 2014 | 2:35 p.m. CDT

JEFFERSON CITY — A lawsuit brought Tuesday by public school teachers seeks to block a statewide vote on a proposed constitutional amendment that would limit their tenure protections.

The lawsuit contends the proposed ballot initiative is unconstitutional because it effectively would change two parts of the Missouri Constitution — one dealing with education, the other with collective bargaining. It asks a Cole County judge to prohibit the secretary of state from certifying the measure for the November ballot.

Supporters of the initiative submitted petition signatures last month to Secretary of State Jason Kander. He has until Aug. 5 to determine if they gathered enough valid signatures from registered voters to qualify for the ballot.

The proposal would curb tenure protections for teachers and other certified school staff by limiting their contracts to three years. Starting in July 2015, all public school districts would need to adopt evaluation standards that use student performance data to guide decisions on promoting, demoting, firing and paying personnel.

The proposal states that teachers would continue to have the constitutional right to bargain collectively, except with respect to the performance-based evaluation system.

The measure is packaged as a single amendment to Article 9 of the Missouri Constitution pertaining to education. But the lawsuit says it also effectively amends Article 1 establishing the right to collective bargaining. If so, that would violate constitutional provisions requiring initiatives to amend only one article of the constitution and to address only one subject, the lawsuit states.

The Teach Great coalition sponsoring the ballot measure said the initiative deals with only one subject.

"The one issue is about ensuring that we have the highest-quality teachers in the Missouri classroom," said Kate Casas, a Teach Great spokeswoman.

The plaintiffs in the lawsuit are Anita Marie Kuehner and Daniel Twombly, two teachers at the Francis Howell School District who are covered by collective bargaining agreements that include details on teacher evaluations. Kuehner is president of the local chapter of the National Education Association.

The lawsuit was filed by Jefferson City attorney Chuck Hatfield, who said it was financed by the Committee to Support Public Educators, which includes the Missouri NEA and the Missouri State Teachers Association.

The two teachers groups said they oppose the measure not merely because of the way it is drafted, but because of the changes it would make to school policies.

"This amendment will result in more time spent testing and less time spent learning, actually short-changing the education students receive," DeeAnn Aull, a lobbyist for the Missouri NEA, said in a written statement.


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