Ruling reasserts school board’s role in hiring, firing teachers

The Jindal administration’s sweeping education overhaul took another blow last week when a section of a bill dealing with the hiring and firing of school employees was ruled unconstitutional.

The decision came three weeks after a similar ruling about the state’s voucher program, which devoted public education funds to private and parochial schools. The recent ruling was only a partial loss for school reformers as only one out of four sections of the bill were ruled unconstitutional.

Sections of the bill relating to teacher tenure and salaries linked to teacher performance were upheld while a portion that took hiring and firing powers out of the hands of the local school board and put them solely under the power of superintendents was ruled unconstitutional.

Baton Rouge Judge R. Michael Caldwell ruled that the bill was too broad and that the unconstitutional section of the bill was not closely enough related to the other sections.

Louisiana School Board President and St. Charles Parish District 5 School Board Member John Smith said the ruling as a whole was a complete win for the state’s school boards.

“The school boards were not necessarily supporting the teacher’s issue [linking salaries to performance]. We were not involved in that,” Smith said. “I think the school board won 100 percent of its case.”

Smith said the governor was trying to weaken locally-elected school boards by centralizing personnel decisions in the hands of superintendents in a way that limited the rights of appeal for school system employees and the ability for school boards to more effectively govern.

Under the law, teachers who would have been terminated by the superintendent would, instead of facing the local school board, only be able to appeal to a committee made up of people appointed by the superintendent.

“Where’s the justice there?” Smith said.

He said retaining the current system preserves the rights of both employees and school boards.

“In this instance you will have an elected body that acts just like a jury and the superintendent has to present his case to the body. Then the individual who is so affected has a right to present their case,” Smith said.

Smith said although in his 26 years on the St. Charles Parish School Board he does not remember ever going against a superintendent’s recommendation to terminate an employee, he thinks that the current process is more democratic than legislation passed by education reformers would have allowed.

“I’m not in any way trying to protect school boards. What I am interested in is protecting the rights of the public,” Smith said. “The public would have had no redress in any way and when the redress falls upon a single individual that makes it a dictatorship. In a democracy, a dictatorship is unacceptable.”

Smith said the ruling is just another example of school reformers trying to force their will against the state’s constitution.

“I’m extremely happy and I never had any doubt that the school board would prevail in this particular instance because the law is clear,” Smith said. “I think that the governor and whoever is advising him just thought that they could disregard the law.”

 

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