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Lawsuit seeks to block vote on teacher tenure

Tuesday, July 1, 2014 | 10:31 p.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — Two Missouri public school teachers filed a lawsuit to block a statewide vote on a proposed amendment to the state constitution to limit tenure protections.

The proposed initiative would limit tenure by preventing teaching contracts that last longer than three years.

It also includes a clause that would impact collective bargaining protections for Missouri public school teachers.

According to its website, the Teach Great initiative "would improve students' success rates and reward great teachers." However, some Columbia teachers are concerned that it will do just the opposite.

Susan McClintic, a fifth-grade teacher for Columbia Public Schools and the president of the Columbia chapter of the Missouri National Education Association, called the proposed ballot initiative "an attack on public education" and said the proposed bill "seeks to do away with due process for teachers."

The ballot initiative

The proposed amendment to Article 9 of the state constitution was filed by Marc Ellinger, the attorney for Teach Great in March 2013. If passed, it would go into effect July 2015.

The amendment would prevent any public school district from entering into a new contract for a duration of more than three years. It would also require all public school districts to develop and implement teacher evaluation standards based on student performance.

According to a summary on the Teach Great group's website, this will require that teachers be "dismissed, retained, demoted, promoted, and paid primarily using quantifiable student performance data as part of the evaluation system."

Article 1, Section 29 of the state constitution protects the right of teachers to bargain collectively. The proposed amendment states that teachers will retain this right, "except with respect to the design and implementation of the performance based evaluation system."

The proposal is packaged as a single amendment to Article 9 of the state constitution, pertaining to education. According to the group's website, TeachGreat.org, it has collected more than 275,900 signatures to place the proposal on the ballot.

The lawsuit

The lawsuit, which was filed by Jefferson City attorney Chuck Hatfield on June 17, seeks to block a statewide vote on the proposed amendment.

It asserts the proposed amendment is unconstitutional because it would amend more than one article in the state constitution. In addition to the proposed amendment to Article 9, the lawsuit says the proposal would also include an amendment to Article 1 of the state constitution. Article 1 establishes the collective bargaining rights of public school teachers.

The lawsuit requests that a Cole County judge prohibit Secretary of State Jason Kander from certifying it to appear on the November ballot.

Anita Marie Kuehner and Daniel Twombly are the plaintiffs in the case. Kuehner is the president of her local National Education Association. Both teach in the Francis Howell School District.

The lawsuit is being financed by the Committee to Support Public Educators, which includes the Missouri National Educators Association and the Missouri State Teachers Association, according to Associated Press reports. Both groups have issued statements explaining that they oppose the proposed ballot initiative because of the way that it was drafted and because of the changes it proposes to make to school policies.

McClintic said that she has concerns about the disconnect between the agenda of the Teach Great initiative and that of Missouri public school teachers. In Columbia, educators are not offered tenure until they fulfill a series of requirements, including five consecutive years of outstanding evaluations.

Susan Edmondson, a teacher with the district, said tenure has "no influence on how passionate teachers teach." Instead, tenure exists to protect teachers from "less passionate administrators on a fast track that want to add slashing the budget to their resumes."

Edmondson also said that "in a district as conscientious as Columbia" she has faith in the administration but worries that the changes would hurt educators in Missouri's smaller districts.

The secretary of state has until Aug. 5 to certify the ballot initiative. If the lawsuit is unsuccessful and the petition has enough valid signatures, it will be placed on the November ballot.

Supervising editor is Scott Swafford.


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