Barely 18 months after teachers in Tacoma went on strike over their district’s proposal to give principals more authority over teacher placement, the Legislature is poised to derail the plan that helped make peace between the union and school system.
Senate Bill 5242, which passed out of the Senate Wednesday on a 27-22 vote, would give principals veto authority over teacher reassignments.
Districts often move teachers between schools based on staffing needs, which are determined by student enrollment.
Under the bill that passed the Senate last Wednesday, principals and teachers would have to come to a “mutual agreement” about a teacher’s placement at a given school — otherwise, the teacher could be put on temporary assignment by the district, and potentially fired after eight months if he or she can’t find a permanent spot.
The bill would apply to all contracts entered into after Aug. 1 of this year. That means the three-year contract the district and the Tacoma Education Association hammered out in 2011 would be allowed to stand through its expiration date of August 2014.
But after that, any new contracts between the district and the union would be have to stripped of language that allows reassignments to be decided by a three-member committee of a principal and two teachers, said John Prosser, a union member who served on a committee to develop Tacoma’s new teacher displacement policy.
Prosser wrote a letter to the Senate Early Learning and K-12 Education Committee saying that Senate Bill 5242 “will undo the monumental work” Tacoma just completed.
“We’re in that healing phase,” Prosser said Friday. “Anything that undoes that process is just going to open up old wounds. This is the reason we went on strike.”
Republican state Sen. Steve Litzow, who chairs the Senate Early Learning & K-12 Education Committee, said the logic behind Senate Bill 5242 is that “the principal knows what’s best for his school.” The Mercer Island lawmaker introduced the legislation.
“It’s not about good or bad teachers,” Litzow said on the Senate floor. “It’s about the kind of teacher the principal believes he needs in his school to get the best out of his students.”
As a condition of the fall 2011 contract, Prosser and eight other committee members worked between November 2011 and June 2012 to develop the new rules in Tacoma, which the district just put into effect this year.
Dan Voelpel, spokesman for Tacoma Public Schools, said that district officials don’t want to see their newly developed process change, either.
“We love it,” Voelpel said Wednesday. “We wouldn’t be in favor of having any prescriptive changes.”
The state teachers union opposes the bill, as do the lobbying arms of the state principals association and the state school administrators association. Education reform groups, including Stand for Children, support the proposal.
“Mutual consent policies create strong matches between teachers and schools, which benefits teachers, schools and students,” said Anne Luce of Partnership for Learning, the education foundation of the Washington Roundtable.
Adrienne Dale, the president of the Tacoma Education Association, said that her union plans to fight the bill in the state House, which has a Democratic majority that is more likely to try to block its passage.
Should those efforts fail and the measure pass into law, Dale said that it would be “going backward.”
“We are allowed to bargain our contract language, and that’s one of our basic rights,” Dale said. “I would hate to see that disappear.”
Melissa Santos: 360-357-0209