Pa. House advances bill aimed at weakening teacher seniority

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The bill would allow school districts to ignore seniority when deciding to lay off the small minority of the state’s teachers who have below proficient ratings.


The Pennsylvania House of Representatives passed a bill Tuesday that would partially undo the state’s seniority protections for teachers, while also allowing school districts to make layoffs for financial reasons – a practice that is now barred.

The bill would allow school districts to ignore seniority when deciding to lay off the small minority of the state’s teachers who have below proficient ratings.

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Districts would first lay off those with “failing” ratings, then those designated as “needs improvement.”

When deciding between those with the best ratings, seniority would still win the day.

Layoff decisions must be based on teacher evaluations without considering salaries, according to the bill.

And districts seeking to downsize must also furlough an equal percentage of administrative staff, unless given a special waiver from the state.

The bill also allows school districts to make layoffs for financial reasons. Now, layoffs are allowed only  when enrollment drops or by cutting programs wholesale.

In the face of state cuts and rising fixed costs in recent years, school administrators said that has forced some school districts into academically imprudent decisions.

“So if they’re offering four foreign languages, they might eliminate one of those languages in its entirety instead of just cutting it back a little bit,” said Jim Buckheit, executive director of the Pennsylvania Association of School Administrators, a group that’s long advocated for such changes.

Ninety percent of school districts have had to cut staff in recent years, either through attrition or furlough, PASA said.

The Pennsylvania State Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union, said the bill has major problems – chiefly that teacher ratings are based on an untested evaluation system which relies largely on student performance on standardized tests.

“This evaluation system is still, in our opinion, unreliable. It doesn’t really provide accurate information for this sort of high stakes decision making,” said PSEA spokesman Wythe Keever. “The last thing Pennsylvania needs to be doing now is devising new schemes to get rid of more teachers … what we should be talking about is how to adequately fund schools.”

The bill passed the House along party lines, with out a single yea vote from Democrats.

It now moves on to the Senate, where leaders have expressed interest in such a bill.

Gov. Tom Wolf does not support it, saying seniority issues should be negotiated through the local collective bargaining process.

As it stands, state school code specifically mandates layoffs to be made in reverse seniority order, also known as “first in, last out.” Pennsylvania is one of six states that calls for this to be the sole factor in school layoff decisions.

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