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House: Pass the Senate tenure bill

Guest Columnist
Dr. Mike Reed

One of the most significant education bills in recent history that would protect students from incompetent and dangerous teachers is now in position for final action in the Legislature.  The proposed legislation, known as the “Students First Act,” will be on the House Ways and Means Education Committee agenda Tuesday at 10 a.m. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Trip Pittman, is a serious attempt to revise Alabama’s outdated teacher tenure law.
The majority of hard working, sincere and committed education employees in our state will not be affected by this bill.  From the maintenance personnel who provide a safe environment for learning to the cafeteria workers who serve hot meals to the teacher who loves her work in the classroom to the leaders of the system, they all understand that education is a team effort with a common goal of making learning a priority for the children in our care. However, for that small number of employees who do not share that commitment, things will be different.
The word “tenure” comes from the Latin word “tenere” and means “to hold’ or “to keep.” The concept began in Massachusetts in 1866 and was designed to protect teachers from political reprisals. The bill that is currently before the Alabama House promises the same type of protection for those committed to the work.
No one can lose his or her job for personal or political reasons. Every person who has tenure will continue to have tenure.  Tenure will still be earned after three consecutive years of employment.  Concerns over the definition of a year have been further defined to include all employees who are hired and working before Oct. 1 of the school year.
The current bill is designed to restore confidence in public school personnel procedures and to promote sound management practices for transfers and discipline.  It is designed to protect education employees, but it also provides new processes for removing those employees who have violated the public trust. It restores local control over personnel decisions.  Since 2004, the last time a tenure reform bill was introduced, it has taken approximately 240 days to terminate an employee. The current bill will limit this to 60 days.
When the Students First Act was first introduced it was a “perfect world” bill, idealistic in nature, but not realistic for passage.  It made many people uncomfortable because of the changes proposed. School Superintendents of Alabama, our professional association, along with the Alabama Association of School Boards, the Department of Postsecondary Education, the State Department of Education and the Business Council of Alabama, worked with senators for two weeks to address their concerns.  The bill successfully passed the Senate on May 5 near midnight. Even with the changes, the bill is still a very good bill. As written, it will bring sweeping change to the process of termination of teachers who have not respected the profession.
It is our hope that the Senate-passed bill will pass the House in the same form in which it was received.  We are discouraging any amendments to the bill and we expect that many will be offered.  Some of those will do nothing to improve the bill and some of them will weaken the bill.  Adding any amendment to the bill will cause it to be returned to the Senate where it will likely die. We have come too far to let that happen.
Our opponents know this. That’s why they’ve launched an all-out effort to call, email, and visit House members in an effort to convince them to change this bill in some way. Some of their desired changes have to do with the reduction in force (RIF) policy which has not changed from the original code. Most recently, they’ve talked about changes to the termination hearing process. Based on the evidence that has been presented and the conversations that have been initiated, it is obvious that neither of these proposed changes is based on actual policy concerns, but rather on a fundamental mission to stop this bill from passing.
Senate Bill 310 is not perfect, but it is a very good bill. It’s a change in law that we’ve long needed and one that the people of this state clearly want.  This bill will not penalize or hurt good teachers in our state. It will make it easier to remove those education employees who need to find another career.  It will help local superintendents and school boards support those certified and classified employees whose goals are to put “Students First”.  Putting students first is the reason that almost every education career professional entered the education arena.  This bill will help them continue to accomplish their career ambition.
As superintendent, I will always support good teachers and good classified employees, and I will work to find a way to compensate them for their sacrifice and service in the future.   I hope you will join me in this effort to give our best education employees the support, encouragement, and protection they need by asking our House members to vote YES for the passage of SB 310.  It is the right thing to do.
Mike Reed, Ed. D, is superintendent of Hartselle City Schools.