Virginia Senate Opts To Leave Teacher Contracts Unchanged

RICHMOND, Va. (CBSDC/AP) — Legislation making it easier to remove public school teachers from their jobs failed to gain Senate approval Tuesday when two Republican lawmakers declined to vote on the measure, dealing a blow to a key component of GOP Gov. Bob McDonnell’s education agenda.

The bill failed 18-20 with Sens. Thomas K. Norment Jr. of James City County and John Watkins of Powhatan County abstaining, citing family reasons.

“I’m married to a teacher, for cryin’ out loud. Blood runs thicker than water,” Watkins said after the floor session.

Hours earlier, when the bill first came up for a vote, Norment signaled his intention to break from his fellow Republicans and be against it. He told his colleagues about an email he had received earlier in the day from his daughter, a kindergarten teacher. It said, “Happy Valentine’s Day. I love you. Don’t stick it to the teachers.”

Needing every Republican vote in the evenly divided 40-member chamber, GOP senators postponed action while Norment was lobbied heavily by two senior members of the governor’s policy staff, Jasen Eige and Julia Hammond. Norment listened patiently before dismissing them, saying: “If it comes to a choice between voting with my family or the governor, I stick with my family.”

Had Norment and Watkins voted with their GOP colleagues, the tie-breaking vote would have been cast by Republican Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling.

The Senate will get another crack at the issue when it considers a nearly identical bill passed by the House of Delegates.

“Despite today’s close Senate vote, the governor continues to be committed to this important education reform,” said McDonnell spokesman Tucker Martin. “This issue still has a long way to go, and the administration is committed to strongly advocating for the successful House version of this legislation.”

Asked whether the House bill is likely to meet the same fate as the Senate version, Watkins said: “It depends on what it looks like when it comes back over.”

The bill would gradually move teachers and principals from continuing contracts, which are akin to tenure, to a system of annual evaluations and three-year contracts that would not automatically be renewed.

McDonnell originally proposed annual contracts for all teachers, but substantial revisions were made in committee. One significant change was limiting the three-year deals to new hires, which will allow current teachers to remain on continuing contracts. Another was allowing teachers who change school divisions to remain on continuing contracts. An earlier version would have moved them to three-year deals.

The bill extends the probationary period for new teachers and principals from three years to five years before the first three-year contract takes effect. Teachers would be evaluated largely based on students’ academic progress, including test scores, and their contracts could be dropped after three years without explanation. The deadline for telling teachers whether their contracts are renewed would be moved from April 15 to June 15 so students’ final grades could be considered.

If layoffs are necessary, decisions would be based on performance rather than seniority.

Sen. Mark Obenshain, R-Harrisonburg and sponsor of the bill, said it would improve public education.

“This is one tool we can give to schools in the commonwealth of Virginia that will make a difference,” he said. “It’s profoundly pro-teacher, pro-kid and pro-family.”

The Virginia Education Association opposed the bill, claiming it would strip the current system of due process and allow school administrators to fire teachers who are doing a good job simply because they don’t like them. Opponents also argued that weakening job security is no way to attract qualified people to a difficult and low-paying profession.

“The brightest teachers will decide it’s not worth the effort to go through what we’re proposing in this legislation,” said Sen. Yvonne Miller, D-Norfolk.

Meanwhile, some teachers in the state are irate over plans to freeze their pay until 2016 at the earliest. Prince William County school teachers say they have not received a pay raise in the last three years and the freeze moving forward is the final straw.

Educators at three schools in that district have organized a “work to the rule” protest, meaning they will only work from 7:15 a.m. to 2:15 p.m. school is in session, reports 9News Now. They are not planning not come in early or stay after school to help students.

(TM and Copyright 2012 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2012 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

  • robertjonesz

    Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a life time. Who is going to teach you now a days? It is only University. Check out online for High Speed Universities to get your degree faster and your job search will be easy.

  • Mark

    Once again, the unions holding our nation’s educational system hostage win as a result of their paid prostitutes in the legislature.

  • tvs

    Has nothing to do with the Unions! You are uninformed . . . uneducated. Shame Gov. McDonnell – we are former military, former corporate, former civil servants etc. You can not lump teachers in one group. Teachers today are an assorted group of individuals – many who graduated and went directly into teaching, committed and excited about their chosen profession, many others changed careers to go into what was once considered a noble profession. This mixed group is not all Democrats. Politicians who see them as a block of one party voters are blindly making decisions based on their personal political goals. There are many many Republicans and independents out there. THey are united in seeing that not all are punished for the lack of actions of a few.
    There are horrible teachers out there – both new and veteran – we know that. We don’t want them in the schools either. They make our job much more difficult. But you do not punish or threaten the minimal security we have by throwing all under the bus Administrators and othres think older means no good – not true. Veterans have a lot to teach the young. One administrator in Herndon is so afraid that the veteran teachers will recognize her unprofessional and illegal actions, she has pointedly told applicants that she will only hire new and career switcher teachers. That school is suffering greatly – teachers, students, other staff – morale is horrible. Students are merely data and teachers are the lab assistants who must deliver her prescribed results. Do you realize that these are the people your children are around all day – often interacting much more than you do with your children on a regular basis. Do you want scared, tired, worried, overworked individuals in these positions trying to inspire your children?
    We chose to accept the low pay that we receive because we ARE dedicated to a profession we enjoy, not as much as we once did for several reasons. I am not one to complain and I know that some teachers do complain endlessly. However, the focus on process and not substance has resulted in teachers going to meeting after meeting to view the template they should be completing for the benefit of junior administrators to show each higher successive level of administrators. Many teachers do not know how or what material to access to complete the templates. It is horrible – we love our jobs. But it is getting old.
    Each night I come home and work two to three more hours, each weekend has several hours portioned out for more work; the excitement of my daughter’s recent wedding was muted by the fact that I knew I had to return home early to prepare for school the next few days. Sixty to seventy hours a week and then more in the summer preparing, taking additional courses all unpaid. And you want to take away the security that I have worked for.
    Shame! What are you teaching the kids? Who is going to be teaching the kids when the good ones leave because of the lack of respect we are now also getting from the adults.

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