Op-Ed: Blaming teachers union is wrong tactic

There has been much attention directed at teacher tenure in La Cañada in recent weeks. Is teacher tenure the problem? A school board member asked this question publicly and responded by saying, “Yes.”

My first response to this is to say that teachers and certificated staff members in California do not have tenure. Tenure is a right only given in particular professions such as university professors. Elementary teachers, secondary teachers and other certificated staff members are granted “permanent status” after completing two years of probationary status. Probationary status is often preceded by three years of temporary status, during which all contracts are for one year.

Temporary teachers must reapply, reinterview and be observed a minimum of three times in order to be rehired. The following probationary period is a time when teachers can be non-reelected, or let go without the district's administration needing to give a specific reason. Due process is given to certificated staff members once they are granted permanent status.

Due process does not mean that a district cannot fire a teacher if it has just cause. While the process could be streamlined and administrators could be better trained in effectively carrying out procedures, it is not as ominous a task as the media would make it appear. If a certificated staff member is not effectively doing their job, an administrator must document the ineffectiveness, attempt to provide support to help the employee improve, and if no improvement occurs, they can terminate the employment of the staff member.

This is a process that takes time. It is the district's responsibility to ensure that a permanent-status employee, who has dedicated his or her life to the profession, is working to the district's standards. Removing an ineffective teacher does not have to be costly if adequate documentation and evidence is provided to support the decision.

Why is due process so important? Any person should have the right to know when they are not meeting standards and then be afforded the opportunity to improve. There are few careers where an employee would not be warned of the need to improve before being discarded. Teachers deserve this same right.

What about criminal behavior? If any certificated staff member engages in criminal activity, they are removed from the classroom immediately. Once the allegation has been substantiated, the staff member is stripped of their job and, often times, their credential.

Why do districts move toward settlements rather than termination? This often happens because the school district does not have proof of misconduct or poor performance. Evaluations must provide evidence of a teacher's poor performance. Public hearings may complicate matters. When districts are faced with making a decision that is public, they may chose to move toward a settlement ensuring the separation, if termination may fail due to a lack of evidence of wrong doing or poor performance.

Is it the union's fault? The union's main responsibility in this process is to negotiate effective teacher evaluation procedures with the district's administration. The administration's responsibility is to use these comprehensive forms to identify poor performance or areas of weakness. The union also plays a role in developing a mentor program through negotiations with the district that allows effective staff members to work with those that need to make improvements. The union will make sure that due process rights are followed and that certificated staff members are not let go for frivolous or inappropriate reasons. The union and administration only want effective teachers to remain in classrooms and work hard together to ensure this is happening.

So, back to the original question — is teacher tenure the problem? No, permanent status is not the problem. Ineffective teacher evaluations and public hearings are the problem. Blaming teachers unions is not the right tactic. No one desires higher-quality teaching than teachers themselves. Stripping teachers of their due process rights is not the way to ensure high-quality teachers. It only serves to take away what little dignity is left in the profession.

MANDY REDFERN is president of the La Cañada Teachers Assn. She can be reached at mredfern@lcusd.net.

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