The bill, Senate file 51, would effectively repeal a state law that currently provides for continuing contract status for teachers following a probationary period. Under the law, continuing contract teachers are automatically issued a contract annually unless notified of their termination and the reasons for it by April 15 each year. A continuing contract teacher who is terminated in such an instance is entitled to request a hearing on his/her dismissal.
Current law states that, prior to attaining continuing contract status, a teacher may be terminated for “any reason not prohibited by law.”
For continuing contract teachers the law lists “incompetency, neglect of duty, immorality, insubordination, unsatisfactory performance or any other good or just cause,” as reasons a teacher may be terminated.
The bill, introduced by Coe would amend the final phrase to read “any other reason not specifically prohibited by law.”
An attempt to contact Coe for comment was unsuccessful, but he and other supporters of the bill say the current law makes removing under-performing teachers too difficult.
According to Associated Press reports, during the committee hearing last week, Bill Schilling of the Wyoming Business Alliance testified that the law makes it too cumbersome to fire bad teachers, and is the reason students don’t perform well on assessment tests.
Goshen County superintendent Ray Schulte told the committee the process of removing poor teachers should be speeded up, possibly by lessening the role of lawyers in the process. He added, however, that he isn’t sure he supports the bill as introduced.
Teachers testifying before the committee said the current law is necessary to avoid retribution by parents or board members for such actions as awarding low grades. Further, they argued that the change would create a climate of fear in schools which would not be beneficial to education and might make it more difficult to hire teachers.
Park County District No. 1 superintendent Kevin Mitchell is out of town this week, but at an earlier meeting of the district school board with Rep. Dave Bonner, R-Powell, he also expressed uncertainty about the bill and the way it is worded. Mitchell said the bill as originally introduced might actually expand the right of some teachers to request a hearing, and the bill “needs a lot of work.”
During that meeting, school board members had opposing opinions on the bill. Greg Borcher said he always has opposed tenure because no one should be guaranteed a job, while Dee Heny argued that teachers need some form of protection from unwarranted intimidation and pressure.
Powell Middle School principal Jason Sleep said he has concerns about the bill and would prefer to withhold comment “until they get the bugs worked out.”
“I will say this, though,” Sleep said. “I don’t like any legislation that creates fear for our kids or our teachers.”
Brendan O’Connor, president of the Powell Education Association and a past member of the Wyoming Education Association Board of Directors, said he believes the current system is working.
“Everyone’s evaluated every year,” O’Connor said. “There’s plenty of opportunity to remove a teacher properly and legally. If the administration follows the law, there’s little the WEA can do to protect a teacher’s job.”
O’Connor said the current law does work to prevent wholesale firings when a new administration is hired by a school or prevent a teacher being fired due to an administrator’s personal biases. As an example, he cited a teacher in Wyoming who was told by her principal that she should not be teaching, but should be at home watching her kids.
O’Connor indicated that the term “tenure” is misleading, and current law doesn’t really grant a teacher a job permanently.
“It keeps being called tenure, but that’s not in the law,” O’Connor said.
Sen. Ray Peterson, R-Cowley, who recently introduced legislation authorizing a pilot project using cameras in classrooms as part of teacher evaluations, said when contacted this week, that the key to removing poor teachers lies in a better process for evaluating teachers. He added that he believes teachers do need some job protection.
A bill similar to Coe’s has been introduced in the House of Representatives by Rep. Matt Teeters, R-Lingle.
No action had been taken on that bill as of press time Wednesday.