Three bills in the House of Representatives aim to change how teachers are furloughed in school districts, which could mean teachers will lose their jobs in cases of economic hardship based on a ranking of effectiveness, not seniority.
Rep. Seth Grove, R-Dover Township, said he introduced his bill this year because he heard about a case in New Jersey in 2010 when an elementary teacher was laid off on the same day she was honored as her district's teacher of the year.
The teacher, Jill Mills, didn't have tenure yet, so New Jersey furlough laws dictated she had to be one of the first who was suspended when the Parsippany-Troy Hills School District faced financial woes.
Grove said when he looked at the Pennsylvania school code, he realized the same thing could happen to teachers in York school districts. Grove; Ryan Aument, R-Lancaster; and Tim Krieger, R-Westmoreland, introduced three bills that seek to change the furlough process: If a district needs to suspend teachers for economic reasons, they say their proposals give school districts flexibility to keep the best teachers in their classrooms.
The bills vary in their specific processes but all use the new teacher evaluation system to rank teachers, instead of making furlough lists based on how many years a teacher has been in a district.
Union reaction: But such legislation raises concerns for organizations such as the Pennsylvania State Education Association, a statewide teachers' union with more than 182,000 members from across Pennsylvania.
Wythe Keever, spokesman for the PSEA, acknowledged school districts face a grim financial outlook for the next few years, but said the organization does not support any of the bills in the education committee.
"This is the wrong solution to the problem," Keever said.
Keever said moving to a system where furloughs happen based on an effectiveness policy is more subjective than a process based solely on the duration a teacher has worked in the district.
Keever said studies show teachers with more experience tend to be more efficient in the classroom and serve students better.
Grove said if Keever's assertion is true, that should be evident in the teacher effectiveness scores. In that case, Grove said, the new proposals would protect teachers with tenure who are also teaching students well.
Debate: But Keever pointed out one contradiction in the proposal: Under the state's current furlough laws, the school district is required to offer those teachers first chance at any positions that open up in the years following the cuts. The language in the three proposals does not indicate the recall rights of teachers would be affected.
"It makes no sense to give recall rights to a teacher that's not effective," Keever said.
Plus, Keever said, teachers who have more experience would be more likely to be furloughed under the new proposals because their salaries are higher.
Legislators say the emphasis is on protecting teachers who earn a "distinguished" designation, and others at the top. Grove said the teacher effectiveness standards are clearly laid out, and the proposal is a way for teachers to have control over their future in a district.
"It allows everybody to compete to keep their jobs," Grove said.
Grove said he isn't sure if his bill will be the one to leave the House Education Committee for a full vote. But he expects one of bills to pass through the committee sometime in January, which he will still consider a success because he and the other two representatives all co-sponsored each other's proposals.
If one of the bills moves to the House floor for a vote, Keever said it will become a "high priority" for the organization to speak against, as it did during a hearing about the bills last week.
-- Reach Nikelle Snader at firstname.lastname@example.org.