Nearly 80 percent of teachers in St. Charles Parish are tenured, a status that gives job security to many. But tenure does not guarantee lifetime employment and planned reforms at the state level could change the game for some educators.
Part of Gov. Bobby Jindal’s educational reform plan for Louisiana includes revising the way tenure is granted to teachers across the state. The state currently mandates that teachers receive tenure automatically after completing a three-year probationary period of teaching in a district.
Tenure marks a teacher as a permanent employee, but does not guarantee lifetime employment, according to Paul Gibson, executive director of human resources for St. Charles Parish Public Schools.
Gibson said the practice exists for two essential reasons: to protect educators from political or personal retribution and to guarantee their academic freedom to teach according to the best practices in their areas of expertise. It guarantees due process to all teachers facing dismissal charges, allows tenured teachers to bump others when applying for positions when their position has been eliminated, and prohibits schools from firing experienced teachers in favor of less experienced and less expensive teachers in the face of budget cuts.
Jindal has not introduced any specific bills yet, but State Rep. Greg Miller said that they are expected in the near future.
Miller said that most of the ideas that are expected to be part of the reforms are aimed at giving the school board more control and more options for how to retain the most qualified teachers.
"I believe it needs to be reformed because it’s very difficult for ineffective teachers…to be removed," Miller said. "The school board and superintendent’s hands are tied to a great extent."
Miller said that teachers in St. Charles Parish should not worry about tenure reforms.
"In St. Charles Parish…97 percent of the teachers were judged as highly effective," Miller said. "I believe our teachers are fantastic in St. Charles Parish – they have nothing to fear from this."
Miller said that the main group that would be affected are teachers in the bottom 10 percent out of the entire state , which includes 50,000 teachers.
"I doubt if there are many, if any, in St. Charles Parish that would be judged ineffective under these guidelines," he said.
Even for those in the bottom percentile, Miller said the idea is that they would lose tenure after one year, but would be required to take professional development courses which would give them the opportunity to gain their tenure back within two years.
"We want the best teachers available and the great teachers have nothing to fear from this," he said.
Another suggested change is that incoming teachers would only receive tenure after five consecutive years of achieving "highly effective" status.
"They want to make tenure active rather than automatic – it will give more power to the local school board," Miller said. "Teachers will still have job protections and due process, but it will give districts a little more flexibility."
Another idea that Miller agrees with is to allow the school board to reward effective teachers with bigger pay increases, instead of across-the-board increases which are currently required.
"It seems to me that we would want to reward the best teachers that we have," Miller said.