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Bills would change tenure process for teachers in Florida

By Staff | Apr 16, 2009

For years the teaching profession was seen as a bastion of job security where an educator rarely had to worry about his or her position, yet two “teacher tenure” bills circulating the Florida Legislature are making the secure career path a bit more precarious.
Those seeking a steady and reliable profession have traditionally chosen law enforcement, nursing or teaching, but with school districts laying off hundreds of employees and legislators attempting to change the tenure process, the assumption is being turned on its head.
Senate Bill 2458 and House Bill 1411 modify the structure of the tenure process and the professional service contract. Teachers hired after July 1 will have to work five one-year contracts to reach a professional contract instead of three. They can also be let go for any reason during this period.
Once they receive their professional contract, according to the bill, teachers will have to go through a renewal process every five years.
Education advocates such as the Florida School Board Associations, Florida Education Association and Florida Association of District School Superintendents have opposed both bills since their introduction to the Legislature.
Rep. Gary Aubuchon, R-Cape Coral, said the bill has not passed through his committee — the Committee on K-12 — but it will reach the House floor in the near future.
The intent of the legislation is to keep teachers accountable and to prevent ineffective teachers from working in the system for two or three decades. But, rather than focusing on those teachers who need additional training or assistance, the bills apply to all educators across the state.
Lee County School Board Member Robert Chilmonik said he does not see a problem with the current tenure system.
“The issue that should be addressed is how we evaluate teachers and how we provide motivation with the use of incentives to recognize outstanding teacher performance,” he said. “We have teachers who do outstanding work and we have some who need improvement, and that’s where the area of focus should be.”
According to Dr. Wayne Blanton, executive director of the Florida School Board Associations, the tenure bills have passed committees in the House and Senate but the votes were close, sliding through the Senate’s education committee, 5-3, and the House education committee, 12-10. He said the split vote is an indication it likely will not gain enough votes in the full house.
“It was very obvious that bill could’ve been killed in that committee,” said Blanton in a weekly recorded address from the organization in Tallahassee. “Preferably we would like to kill that bill. It is not conducive to education and would create tremendous collective bargaining problems in the future.”
The president of the Teacher’s Association of Lee County, Mark Castellano, agreed that negotiations would be hindered by changes in the tenure process. The teaching profession already loses 50 percent of new staff members in the first seven years, he said, and changing the process will further devastate the supply of teachers.
“It’s just another way they are trying to undo public education,” said Castellano. “Sooner or later we will need teachers again. One reason people get into it is because of job security and when they pull that out there is no reason for them to stay in.”
The concept of a tenured position first appeared among academia at the post-secondary level as a way to protect professors or academics from elimination over contentious ideas or radical ideologies. Over the years it crept into the K-12 public education system and has protected teachers from being singled out for various reasons.
“I’ve seen too many good people that have been targeted for various reasons that didn’t deserve that,” said Castellano.