Virginia lawmakers consider bill making it easier to fire teachers

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) - The House of Delegates gave preliminary approval Friday to legislation that would make it easier to remove public school teachers from their jobs.

The bill would move Virginia public school teachers from a continuing contract, which is akin to tenure, to a three-year contract that would not automatically be renewed. Teachers would be evaluated annually, and administrators would not have to give a reason if they decide against contract renewal.

Del. Richard Bell, R-Staunton, is sponsoring the bill for Gov. Bob McDonnell, who originally proposed annual contracts. Substantial revisions were made in committee, including amending the bill to allow current teachers to remain on continuing contracts.

The three-year contracts would apply only to new teachers, so it would be years before the full impact of the bill is felt.

The bill, which will be up for a final House vote Monday, also extends the probationary period for new teachers and principals from three years to five years before the first three-year contract takes effect.

Teachers would be evaluated largely based on students' academic progress, including test scores.

If layoffs are necessary, decisions would be based on performance rather than on seniority.

"This legislation raises the bar for teachers and principals," Bell said. "It provides opportunity for professional growth. The current system is flawed and largely ineffective."

He said 17 states already have teachers on limited contracts.

"It's a national trend, and it's here to stay," he said.

Del. Jennifer McClellan, D-Richmond, said everybody agrees that teachers should be evaluated and that incompetent ones should be weeded out. She said that already happens under the continuing contract, which provides for due process before a teacher can be dismissed.

That due process would disappear if Bell's bill becomes law, she said.

"The basic purpose of this bill is, at the end of your three-year term you can lose your job for no reason whatsoever," she said.

Republican Del. Robert D. Orrock Sr., a Caroline County teacher, agreed.

"Any school system is fraught with politics, from the parents you deal with to administrators," he said. "Over the years I've been teaching I've had two incidents where I got crossways with administrators, but because I was doing my job they couldn't get rid of me summarily."

Del. Thomas A. Greason, R-Loudoun, countered that most workers don't even have the security of a three-year contract. "There's no guarantee," he said.

"I get crossways twice a week with my employer, and there's no guarantee I won't lose my job."

However, McClellan said eroding job security in a profession already suffering from high stress and low pay will make it more difficult to attract new teachers.

About 90 percent of Virginia's approximately 100,000 teachers work on a continuing contract, according to the Virginia Education Association.