Randall Bennett 2015-01-20 02:54:45
Teacher tenure, which is sometimes called career status, provides job security for teachers who have successfully completed a probationary period. The purpose is to protect outstanding teachers from being fired for noneducational issues including personal beliefs, personality conflicts with administrators or school board members, etc. Laws pertaining to teacher tenure vary from state to state, but the overall spirit is the same. Teachers who receive tenure have a higher level of job security than non-tenured teachers. Advocates for teacher tenure say that teachers need protection from power hungry administrators and school board members who have personality conflicts with a particular teacher. Tenure status protects a teacher, when a school board member’s child fails their class, from having the repercussion of being fired. It provides job security for teachers, which many believe, translates to happier and higher performing teachers. Tenure also ensures that those who have been there longest have guaranteed job security in tough economic times even though a newer teacher is more cost effective. Opponents of tenure argue that it is too difficult to get rid of a teacher who has been proven to be ineffective in the classroom. Due process is a particularly tedious, difficult, and expensive process for all involved. Districts have tight budgets and the costs of a due process hearing can cripple a district’s budget. It can also be argued that teachers who have received tenure status could lack the motivation they once had to perform well in the classroom. Teachers can be complacent because they know they are less likely to lose their job. Finally, administrators are less likely to discipline a teacher who is tenured compared to one who is a probationary teacher even if they have committed the same offense. Prior to July 2011, the granting of tenure in Tennessee was on a rigid and fixed schedule. Every year by April 15, if a non-tenured teacher’s contract was to be renewed, the teacher must be notified of the teacher’s assignment for the coming year. If not, superintendents were required to notify nontenured teachers of their dismissal or failure of reelection under the continuing contract law. The granting of tenure became a regular annual event during which boards and superintendents met prior to the deadline for the purpose of receiving the superintendent’s tenure recommendations and the board acting on those. In the years leading up to 2011, the deadline was moved to May 15 and then June 15, but the result was the same. Superintendents had one of two choices. Either recommend to the board that the teacher be granted tenure or notify the teacher of their failure of reelection. Because of this statutory “either/or” mandate in the tenure law, once a teacher attains eligibility, meeting the deadline is critical. Failure to do so has in some cases, led to lawsuits. There has been confusion regarding the granting of tenure schedule since the law was changed effective July 1, 2011. According to Tenn. Code Ann. § 49- 5-503 to be eligible to receive tenure a teacher must meet all of the following requirements: 1. Has a degree from an approved four-year college or any career and technical teacher who has the equivalent amount of training established and licensed by the state board of education; 2. Holds a valid teacher license, issued by the state board of education, based on training covering the subjects or grades taught; 3. Has completed a probationary period of five(5) school years or not less than forty-five (45) months within the last seven-year period, the last two (2) years being employed in a regular teaching position rather than an interim teaching position; 4. Has received evaluations demonstrating an overall performance effectiveness level of “above expectations” or “significantly above expectations” as provided in the evaluation guidelines adopted by the state board of education pursuant to § 49-1-302, during the last two (2) years of the probationary period; and 5. Is reemployed by the director of schools for service after the probationary period. We believe the key word in this section is “eligible.” Although the June 15 deadline still exists in state law, the Department of Education is unable to produce teacher evaluation data until August or September. So, how do superintendents and boards deal with this change in the process? Changing from a fixed, certain date to an uncertain date has been the source of much confusion. To our knowledge, there has been no guidance from the state or the courts on how this process should work. To achieve eligibility a teacher must achieve two consecutive evaluations demonstrating an overall effectiveness level of “above expectations” or “significantly above expectations.” Since the evaluation scores are not available until well after June 15, school districts must rehire the teacher as a nontenured teacher for the coming school year. All five of the requirements listed above must be met before a teacher is “eligible” to be tenured. At the point when the teacher is hired for this new year, tenure eligibility does not exist. Arguably, a teacher could work this complete contract year as nontenured teacher and not reach the “grant tenure or non-renew status” until the following contract year. So what are the options? One option would be to take no action until the following June 15 when re-employment decisions must by law be made. The teacher’s contract is in effect for the current school year and the teacher is considered nontenured. If the district chooses this option the teacher would wait until next June 15th rolls around to find out whether the director will recommend tenure. A significant drawback to this approach is the potential of lowering teacher morale by keeping the teacher in a state of uncertainty for a longer period of time. Another option is for the superintendent to make recommendations at the next regular board meeting to grant tenure to teachers whose evaluation scores now make them eligible. This approach demonstrates that the teacher is valued and successful evaluations scores are taken seriously by the board and the superintendent. Ultimately, the decision must be made jointly by the board and superintendent, and together they should act in the best interests of the school district. If you have additional questions, contact the TSBA legal department or your local board attorney. 1 http://teaching.about.com/od/pd/a/Teacher-Tenure.htm 2 Tenn. Code Ann. § 49-5-409(a) 3 Tenn. Code Ann. § 49-2-301(b)(1)( J)
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