By Peter Marcus, DENVER DAILY NEWS
Denver teachers “took to the streets” this weekend over a controversial bill that would completely redefine how teachers are awarded tenure in the state.
Union members gathered both Friday and Saturday on busy Denver intersections to oppose Senate Bill 191, a bill that aims to increase teacher effectiveness by placing more pressure on teachers to prove their worth. Fifty-percent of teacher and principal evaluations would be based on measuring student growth.
Denver teachers object to the debate being focused on “teacher tenure,” arguing that the issue is about “due process,” not tenure.
“We do not have tenure. We do have due process rights,” said Eric Rapp, political action chair for the Denver Classroom Teachers Association. “That means non-probationary teachers can be dismissed if the principal follows the approved process, which includes a documented evaluation and remediation plan.”
Under SB 191, sponsored by Sen. Michael Johnston, D-Denver, teachers would no longer automatically be granted tenure after three years, and a teacher could possibly lose tenure if they demonstrate two consecutive years of ineffectiveness. The evaluations would be developed by the State Board of Education.
Gathered at Lincoln and Colfax just outside the Capitol on Friday, Denver teachers made their voices known. They gathered again on Saturday at Alameda and Broadway.
On Friday, the Senate backed the controversial measure on final reading. SB 191 now heads to the House where it is scheduled for a hearing today in the House Education Committee.
The bill has the support of both Republicans and Democrats who say the time has come for tackling the issue of teacher effectiveness. Gov. Bill Ritter not only says he will sign the bill if it makes its way to his desk, but he has also been vocally supporting the legislation.
Ritter joined former Democratic Govs. Richard Lamm and Roy Romer, as well as former Republican Gov. Bill Owens in “passionately” urging lawmakers to pass the bill.
“Colorado is honored to have many great teachers,” the four governors wrote in a letter supporting the legislation. “We are in awe at their dedication and hard work, but the current system does not distinguish between effective and ineffective educators. It does not take the crucial step to link evaluations to actual impact on student growth.”
Unfunded mandate for schools?
Critics, however, say the legislation would essentially mean an unfunded mandate for local school districts. Opponents say the measure would cost the state more than $100 million to implement the new evaluation system, which would be passed along to local school districts at a time when districts are already facing an average budget cut of about 6 percent.
Districts would be burdened to hire more staff and pay for training to implement the new evaluation system, say critics.
“Sen. Michael Johnston does not understand what it takes to cover the cost of such a proposal,” said Henry Roman, president of the Denver teachers’ union.
He points to the 2005 implementation in Denver of ProComp, a merit-based pay system for Denver teachers. But Roman says Denver voters took cost into account by also approving a $25 million annual property tax increase to support the new salary system.
Johnston, however, does not believe the cost will be as high as critics say, pointing to the bill’s $238,000 fiscal note for 2010-2011. The note climbs slightly to $243,00 for 2011-2012.
Another concern for opponents is that the state is yet to define “effectiveness.” The governor’s Council for Educator Effectiveness was created in January and is charged with defining teacher “effectiveness.”
“SB 191 reverts to the spoils system to ‘improve teacher effectiveness,’” said Jennifer Portillo, vice president of the DCTA. “The irony is that the bill fails to define ‘effectiveness.’ Until we establish objective standards of effectiveness, we are unable to judge whether a teacher meets the standards.”
In other coverage
The Durango Herald: The Senate voted 21-14 to back the proposal, which would remove job protections for teachers deemed to be ineffective for two consecutive years, starting in 2015. Senate Bill 191 now moves to the House, where it is expected to face more opposition. House sponsor Rep. Christine Scanlan, D-Silverthorne, said there are more former teachers among majority Democrats in the House and other members of the caucus who respect their opinion. The bill is opposed by the state’s largest teachers’ union, the Colorado Education Association, a traditional Democratic ally.