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News Link • Education: Government Schools

New law on how teachers contract with districts

• Alex Bloom

The Arizona Legislature made sweeping changes to state teacher contracts earlier this year, removing seniority, salary and contract guarantees.

Changes under House Bill 2011 mean that school districts will be prohibited from using tenure or seniority as a factor in determining which teachers can be laid off. Additionally, school districts no longer have to honor seniority when they rehire.

Gone is an April 15 deadline that required school districts to notify teachers of their contract status for the following school year.

The changes were signed into law Sept. 4 by Gov. Jan Brewer and take effect Tuesday.

Lawmakers entered murky waters with the changes, setting limitations on how public-school districts can negotiate with teachers. The restrictions and changes, such as removing protections and prohibiting factors for hiring, make Arizona one of the more-restrictive states for teachers.

"With the changes, (Arizona) would be near the top as far as being the most restrictive . . . if not at the very top," said Bill Raabe, director of the collective-bargaining and member-advocacy department of the National Education Association.

John Wright, president of the Arizona Education Association, said "I don't know of another sector of the economy or the workforce that would find itself the subject of interference of the relationship of employer and the employee."

Tenure and seniority, along with performance, still are factors in determining salaries, but school districts are no longer required to make salary reductions equitable for all tenured employees. Districts can lower salaries for selected teachers.

Rep. Rich Crandall, chairman of the House Education Committee, said the changes had bipartisan support. The changes remove seniority as a factor in determining retention and rehiring but do not replace it, giving districts local control. Crandall said he believes districts should devise systems of tying teacher salaries to student achievement.

"The bottom line is teachers need to be retained based on their achievement, not on how long they've been at a job," said Crandall, R-Mesa.

Tying teacher salaries to student achievement is one of the pillars of U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan's guidelines for the $4.3 billion "Race to the Top" federal education grants.

"This is where the United States is going and we're just with the early leaders," Crandall said.

State lawmakers passed the bill in the closing days of an emergency 51-day special session to create a budget, pushing the teacher-contract changes through without committee hearings or public comment.

"The difficulty of that kind of middle-of-the-night policy action is that it took place without public debate," Wright said.

Removing the April 15 deadline gives school districts more leeway in determining staffing. Last April, districts sounded an early alarm by laying off thousands of teachers, only to recall many of them in June and July. School-finance officials said the layoffs were necessary to protect school districts from guaranteed teacher contracts in case the Legislature sacked education funding during budget negotiations.

Jeff Thomas, executive director of human capital at the Scottsdale Unified School District, who handles hiring at Scottsdale's 31 schools, said many districts will create their own deadlines rather than wait until late June for the Legislature to pass a budget. "If you're doing staffing (and) you wait until that time, you're going to have a lot of surprises as far as who's coming back for your teachers next year," Thomas said.



1 Comments in Response to

Comment by Powell Gammill
Entered on:

Yup this kills tenure.  Now I have no problem with a school firing expensive experienced teachers when they can hire a recent graduating teacher for half the price.

But, I do not see where the legiscritters get to nullify contractural obligations between two parties which is what this is.  Tenure is a contract.  First in, last out is also a contract.

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