Wolf to veto bill ending seniority-based teacher layoffs

Greg Gross
In this file photo taken Dec. 29, 2015, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf arrives at a news conference to discuss his rejection of parts of a $30.3 billion state budget plan that was at the time six months overdue.
  • The bill would all school district to use an evaluation system when laying off teachers
  • But Gov. Tom Wolf said he will veto it.

Gov. Tom Wolf said he will veto a bill that would end the practice of school districts laying off teachers based on seniority.

Instead of the most recently hired teachers being the first on the metaphorical chopping block, the legislation, House bill 805, would require districts to use an evaluation system when determining which teachers to lay off.

Wolf has long stood in opposition to the bill and will not give it his signature of approval.

"Yes ... the governor has indicated he will veto," Jeff Sheridan, a spokesman for the administration, wrote in an email.

The bill narrowly passed the Senate on Monday by a 26-22 vote, sending it to Wolf. Sen. Pat Vance,R-York and Cumberland counties, was the only senator with ties to York County to vote in opposition. The bill cleared the House last year by a 100-91 margin largely along parties lines, with Rep. Kevin Schreiber, D-York City, being the only York County representative to vote against it.

The vote tallies mean the bill doesn't have veto-proof support.

"I would certainly urge Gov. Wolf to reconsider his threat to veto the bill," said Rep. Stephen Bloom, R-Cumberland County, the bill's prime sponsor. "The idea's not going away."

Evaluation: Under the bill, districts would have to base layoffs on a teacher evaluation system that was implemented statewide in 2012.

Teachers who received "failing" marks in the two most recent end-of-year evaluations would be targeted first. Those who received "needs improvement" would be considered next. Teachers who received a "proficient" or "distinguished" rating would not be considered for layoffs.

A majority of teachers — more than 98 percent — are in those categories, while just under 2 percent are rated as either "failing" or "needs improvement," Bloom said.

The evaluations are based on various things, including students' standardized test scores, the graduation rate and classroom observation, among other factors.

"This bill would allow the local districts to have the final say," Bloom said.

The bill also would allow districts to lay off teachers during tough economic times.

Opposed: The Pennsylvania State Education Association (PSEA), which represents teachers and other school staff, has opposed the bill since it was introduced in the House more than a year ago and took issue with the evaluation system.

"It's an unreliable and invalid way of evaluating teachers," said Wythe Keever, a spokesman for the PSEA.

The evaluation system also struck a chord with the governor's administration.

"We should be working together to create a wide-ranging system, not reliant on testing, but one that focuses on real, proven strategies to prepare our students and measure teacher effectiveness," Sarah Galbally, the secretary of policy and planning in Wolf's office, outlined in a memo. "At a time when there is bipartisan agreement that we need to reduce our reliance on this type of testing, we should not use these scores as a benchmark for teacher quality."

The Pennsylvania Association of School Administrators and the state  Association of Elementary and Secondary School Principals have thrown their support behind the bill.

"The bill includes language that protects effective teachers who, due to seniority, are at the highest salary scale from being targeted for furloughs solely on the basis of their salary level," the associations' executive directors wrote in a letter they jointly released last June.

— Reach Greg Gross at ggross@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter at @ggrossyd.