Wednesday, June 1, 2011 | 2 a.m.
CARSON CITY — The state Senate passed legislation this week that would dramatically change public schools in Nevada. Assembly Bill 225 and Assembly Bill 229 are the basis for the Legislature’s education reform efforts, which are being pushed by Democratic leadership with the support of Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval.
The bills have Democrats at odds with the teachers union, typically their strong ally.
Assemblywoman Debbie Smith, D-Sparks, a co-sponsor of the bills who worked on the legislation for two years, called them “significant reforms.” Dale Erquiaga, senior adviser to Sandoval, said the bills, as amended Monday night, “are significant changes to how we manage education personnel.”
But Lynn Warne, president of the Nevada State Education Association, called them “union-busting tactics dressed up as education reforms.”
The bills await final approval in the Assembly and a signature from Sandoval. If they gain that approval, here are five changes that teachers, administrators and parents will see:
Three years to tenure
Only Nevada and Mississippi have granted post-probationary status — commonly called tenure — to teachers after just one year on the job. The new policy would require teachers to work for three years before becoming eligible for tenure.
During the boom, Nevada was desperate to recruit teachers. That also meant schools were desperate to retain them. New teachers were on probation for two one-year periods, but administrators could waive the second year after a satisfactory first-year evaluation. And in Clark and Washoe counties, they commonly did. A Las Vegas Sun analysis found 95 percent of teachers hired in the past five years in Clark County received post-probationary status after the first year.
The teachers union supports the change, which would apply to those hired after July 1.
Tenured teachers can go back on probation
Conservatives have complained it’s nearly impossible to fire ineffective teachers, particularly after they’ve received tenure. That has led to poor teachers being shuffled from school to school — a ritual known as “pass the trash” — rather than removed from the classroom.
The new laws would change that. Teachers and administrators who receive two consecutive years of “below average” evaluations will be put back on probationary status, meaning they would be easier to fire for being ineffective. After one year of “ineffective” or “minimally effective” evaluations, teachers would be given three evaluations the following year.
The union opposes the measure, because it wanted a third-party appeals process before a teacher is demoted.
This would be effective on July 1.
Ending “last in, first out” layoffs
Each teacher has a number, identifying his seniority in the district. That number has been the standard in determining who gets laid off. But school districts lobbied for the authority to consider more than seniority if layoffs are necessary.
The new law would require that school district layoffs “must not be based solely on the seniority of the teacher or administrator.” Among the factors that could be considered are performance evaluations, disciplinary records, criminal records and degrees.
This change would take effect July 1, giving school districts a decision to make. If they moved quickly with layoffs after the Legislature finalizes a budget, likely sometime around June 6, most school districts, including Clark County, would only use seniority as a basis for their decisions.
Teacher evaluations get some nuance
The current evaluation system is a binary “satisfactory” and “unsatisfactory.” The new policy would require a four-tiered system of evaluations for teachers and administrators beginning in 2013:
• Highly effective
• Minimally effective
The evaluation will be based, in part, on standard measures such as classroom observation. But 50 percent will be set by a “Teachers and Leaders” council, which will be appointed by the governor. This is likely to include test scores for many teachers.
The bill, Assembly Bill 222, that would bring this change is still in play, and in the hands of Smith.
Laws trump collective bargaining
This change won’t be readily apparent to parents and teachers, but could have the biggest effect on the state’s education policy. That’s because when it comes to education, some laws take a back seat to unions’ bargains with school districts. Even if lawmakers want to direct policy, a reluctant bargaining unit can block changes.
Sandoval made elimination of that law as it relates to putting tenured teachers back on probation a negotiating point. The bill supersedes collective bargaining laws.
Warne worries this could set a precedent: Many of these issues, such as how to lay off teachers, have never been discussed at the bargaining table in most counties, she said.
But conservatives complain that unions for teachers, administrators and support staff carry too much weight. That, in and of itself, makes broader changes to education policy more difficult.