Free Lance-Star reporter Chelyen Davis covers Virginia government.
Teacher contract bill carried over to 2013 in Senate
The last bill that would have ended continuing contracts for teachers has failed in the Senate, after a vote to send it back to committee and carry it over for the year.
The vote was 23-17 to recommit the bill; the Senate had also voted down an earlier version of the bill.
The bill would have ended the “continuing contract” that most Virginia teachers have; new teachers would have had three-year contracts, after which they could be let go without a reason being given.
Supporters, including Gov. Bob McDonnell, who was a champion of the bill, said it would make it easier for school administrators to get rid of bad teachers, and reward good ones. They said it would institute a better evaluation process that would help teacher improve.
Opponents said it was unnecessary and would make teaching an even less attractive profession.
Sen. Mark Obenshain, R-Harrisonburg, who had sponsored the Senate version of the bill, argued for it to receive an up or down vote.
“This isn’t about protecting the good teachers. The good teachers, their jobs are secure and they know their jobs are secure,” Obenshain said.
He said said every school district has “lemon” teachers, and that instead of being fired they’re just moved around.
“This is about giving school administrators the tools necessary to do the job,” Obenshain said.
He referred several times to members of the Virginia Education Association who were sitting in the Senate gallery watching proceedings.
Senators, Obenshain, were sent here “to cast tough vote son tough bills. And this is a tough bill. It’s not easy to stand up with the VEA looking down at us… that we’re about to vote on a bill that’s going to affect tenure.”
Sen. Don McEachin, D-Henrico, interrupted to ask if Obenshain’s references to the audience were appropriate; Obenshain apologized.
Sen. Phillip Puckett, D-Russell, himself a former teacher and elementary school principal, took objection to Obenshain’s characterization of bad teachers as “lemons.”
“To refer as our professional teacher as lemons, just like they’re a car that runs up and down the highway… I want you to know I am offended, and I’m not comfortable with that language,” Puckett said. “There’s a mechanism out there now to do what this bill proposes to do. and I know it’s out there because I used it … I wasn’t a perfect teacher when I went to the classroom… but I’m thankful for people who stood up and said we want to help you.”
As a principal, he said, he remembered that.
“I didn’t have all the perfect teachers in my school. But I didn’t just say you’re a lemon, we want to get rid of you. What I said is I want to help you,” Puckett said. “This bill does nothing but kick teachers in the teeth, offers no help for them, just get rid of them. I submit we can do better than that, Virginia can do better than that.”