Each Side Wants a Say in Nevada Teacher Firing Bill

By: Associated Press Email
By: Associated Press Email

CARSON CITY, Nev. (AP) - Union representatives are trying to soften two Democrat-sponsored bills making it easier to fire underperforming teachers, saying the bills don't do enough to protect employees from rash dismissals.

The proposed amendment from the Nevada State Education Association comes as several groups - including the state's largest school districts and Gov. Brian Sandoval's staff - are trying to shape the bills as a way to reform the state's low-ranking K-12 education system.

"This isn't for show. This isn't something we're just doing," said bill co-sponsor Speaker Pro Tempore Debbie Smith, D-Sparks, saying she wants the bills to enact substantial change.

The measures, AB225 and AB229, already passed the Assembly and must pass the Senate no later than May 20. No action was taken at a Monday hearing before the Senate Education Committee.

Nevada schools went through a hiring spree last decade to keep up with breakneck population growth. In Clark County, 25,000 new teachers were hired between the year 2000 and 2010, Smith said.

Bill co-sponsor Assembly Speaker John Oceguera, D-Las Vegas, said while Nevada does not have "a plethora" of bad teachers and administrators, it is too difficult to fire underperforming employees.

Existing law classifies new hires as "probationary employees"- with fewer rights to contract renewal - for the first two years. Often, the second year of the probation period is waived and a teacher gets post-probationary status, sometimes called tenure. The proposed legislation extends the probationary period to three years.

Teachers and administrators would also be evaluated on a four-level scale ranging from "ineffective" to "highly effective," which is more nuanced than the existing, two-level evaluation. Post-probationary employees would become probationary employees again after their second consecutive year of an unsatisfactory rating.

NSEA said probationary employees could be fired in a day under the bill, and proposed a process for a hearing. The union also wants districts to provide "intensive assistance" for underperforming teachers before a district fires them.

But Senate Republicans balked at some of the bills' union-friendly elements, including one section that allows collective bargaining agreements to supersede the stricter tenure provisions.

"The deck is stacked in favor of collective bargaining," said Sen. Greg Brower, R-Reno.

Democratic Assembly leaders are sponsoring the bills, which are based on recommendations from the Education Reform Blue Ribbon TaskForce that submitted Nevada's application for federal Race to the
Top education funds.

Gov. Brian Sandoval has proposed a more aggressive version of the bill - AB555, which proposes eliminating teacher tenure altogether and putting all employees on a year-to-year contract.

Members of the business community, including the Reno Sparks Chamber of Commerce, expressed support for AB555, while some teachers testified at an earlier hearing on the governor's bill that the year-to-year contract would not make them more effective, but more stressed.

"If this body decides on a compromise, that's OK," said Sandoval's senior adviser Dale Erquiaga. "It will be better than what we have now."

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