New Alabama legislation could soon make it easier to fire bad teachers and save money in the process, but could also erode some tenure protections for educators in general.
The state Senate on Thursday evening passed a bill that gives school boards more authority to remove teachers formally accused of crimes or incompetence, shortens the period during which those teachers can appeal their terminations and removes their pay and benefits while the hearing process is under way.
The bill also removes a teacher’s ability to challenge his or her firing if he or she is laid off due to a school’s shortage of revenue.
The bill, which applies to all K-12 and two-year-college teachers, will now be sent to the House for review.
Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh, R-Anniston, a co-sponsor of the bill, praised the legislation during a phone interview Friday.
“I think it’s a very fair piece of legislation,” Marsh said. “Those educators who work tirelessly to foster an environment of learning know that they have nothing to fear with this legislation and we urge the House to pass this bill as soon as possible for the good of Alabama’s children.”
David Stout, spokesman for the Alabama Education Association, disagreed with Marsh, indicating the section of the bill pertaining to firing educators based on lack of revenue could hurt teachers.
“It really allows almost in any circumstance — decreased student enrollment or short on funding — to let people go without any type of hearing or recourse,” Stout said. “We consider that a fatal flaw.”
Still, there are some sections of the bill the AEA finds reasonable, Stout said.
Specifically, the section of the bill that shortens hearings and appeals for teachers fired for being arrested or indicted and that cuts the salaries and benefits to those teachers while they are appealing.
“Right now, if a teacher did something wrong, they have no incentive not to get paid — they can drag out their appeals for months or years if they want,” said Sen. Trip Pittman, R-Daphne, the main sponsor of the bill.
Michael Sibley, communications director for the Alabama Department of Education, said litigation involving the firing of teachers has cost the department $1.4 million so far in this fiscal year alone.
To Anniston school Superintendent Joan Frazier, cutting pay and benefits for a teacher during an appeals process is necessary to save money.
“I definitely support that part of (the bill),” Frazier said.
Frazier said she also supported removing appeals for teachers fired because of lack of funding, especially since revenue is tight now because of the recession.
However, Frazier said, she was not completely comfortable with the entirety of the bill.
“I definitely think the concept of tenure needed revising … but I just don’t want the whole thing to totally negate job security,” she said.
Calhoun County school Superintendent Joe Dyar said he also supported the bill.
He said the bill may allow for a shortening of the appeals process, but the school board still must approve that, adding that the board will still need a significant amount of documentation before a decision to terminate a teacher is made.
“We have a board that cares about our employees and is not going to make decisions that are incorrect,” Dyar said.
Star staff writer Patrick McCreless: 256-235-3561.