Nev. union leaders irked with teacher firing bill
CARSON CITY, Nev. (AP) – Bills making it easier to fire underperforming teachers got Senate approval just before a midnight deadline Monday in spite of union protests, but the Assembly is holding the cards on moving the key bargaining chips further.
Representatives from the Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce called the move “tremendous,” while union representatives – who brought a casket to the governor’s office Tuesday to symbolize the devastation of proposed school cuts – are frustrated another major shake-up is in store for teachers.
The Democrat-sponsored bills would also end the policy of first laying off teachers with the least seniority. That “last in, first out” provision was a key element sought by Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval, and the Senate’s approval greases the wheels of ongoing budget negotiations.
“This is huge,” said Assembly Speaker John Oceguera, D-Las Vegas. “We think they need to be done, but all of that is at risk right now.”
The Assembly, which passed diluted versions of the bill weeks ago, need to agree with the stronger language approved by their Senate counterparts. Assembly leaders said they won’t move the bills forward until they get other budget concessions from Republicans.
“The budget we’ve proposed is balanced,” said Sen. Mo Denis, D-Las Vegas. “In the end we’ll do the right thing.”
Representatives from the Nevada State Education Association teachers union have fought the measures throughout the session, saying they don’t allow enough due process protection for newer teachers if they are unfairly demoted.
The first version of the bills allowed collective bargaining agreements to supersede some of the provisions, but that language was struck out late Monday after talks between both parties and the governor.
Three Senate Democrats opposed one of the bills, and only one Democrat opposed the other.
“I’m disappointed Democratic leadership is leading the way for the reforms,” said Ruben Murillo of the Clark County Educators Association. “I’m happy at least three of them said they didn’t want it on their watch.”
Union representatives accused lawmakers of piling cuts onto teachers – starting with a proposed pay cut, calling on them to contribute to retirement plans for the first time, and approving a bill that could impose more unpaid furlough days.
They brought a casket full of protest letters to the capitol, although the governor’s staff did not let it into the building and fished out the letters to bring to the governor.
The bills, based on recommendations from the group that developed Nevada’s application for Race to the Top federal funding, extend a “probationary period” for new teachers and administrators from two years to three years. Employees’ contracts can be discontinued at the end of a school year during probation.
Other sections of the proposed laws set up a four-tier evaluation system to replace an existing two-tier scale, and send teachers back to probationary status if they earn two consecutive unsatisfactory evaluations.
“It’s an opportunity for administrators, through evaluations and observations, to determine earlier if there’s someone who shouldn’t be in the classroom,” said Dotty Merrill, executive director of the Nevada Association of School Boards. “There will be greater effectiveness in classroom instruction.”
The Republican governor and Democratic sponsors of the measures said the bills put Nevada in line with a national movement to make it easier to lay off bad teachers and keep good ones.