The sponsor of a bill that would make teacher effectiveness the main determining factor during layoffs says that the proposal is worth billions of dollars in school improvement. But the president of the state's largest teachers union wonders why lawmakers are spending time on the proposal when they should be focusing on how to avoid teacher layoffs in the first place.
Mary Lindquist of the Washington Education Association said lawmakers started last year to move toward a new teacher-evaluation system. About 17 school districts are researching, developing and testing model systems, some of which might be scaled up to be used across the state. This new approach likely will change the way school districts lay off teachers, but, Lindquist said, school administrators and teachers need time to develop the new system.
“We’re going into new territory. We need to take it slowly and make sure we’re approaching it rationally and calmly and not in the midst of a heated and very divisive debate,” Lindquist said Friday.
Sen. Rodney Tom, D-Medina, the sponsor of the teacher layoff bill, disagrees.
“There’s nothing out there that I could do this year that makes a multibillion-dollar difference in education other than this legislation,” he said. “To leave billions of dollars on the table because we like the status quo is unacceptable.”
Tom said any other initiative aimed at improving student learning as much as one that ensures the best teachers remain in the classroom would cost the state billions of dollars. In other words, if his proposal is ignored and the system remains unchanged, a big potential savings would be lost, he argues.
Tom’s bill, Senate Bill 5399, would require school districts facing layoffs to first lay off teachers who received the lowest average evaluation ratings during their two most recent evaluations, based on a formula that gives a weight of 60 percent to the most recent evaluation and 40 percent to the previous one.
Most of the state’s current teacher contracts – agreements between teachers and their individual school districts – make seniority the first or one of the most important considerations for teacher layoffs. Tom wants to change that system across the state and make seniority the tie-breaker when two or more teachers have the same average evaluation score. The bill also proposes that school districts give teachers with high evaluation scores, who for some reason haven’t been placed in a job with the district, first shot at new jobs.
The bill would require all future teacher collective-bargaining agreements to adhere to this policy, if it becomes a law.