By Connie Llanos, Staff Writer | LA Daily News
4/28 -- Los Angeles Unified officials announced Tuesday they plan to pursue a series of controversial reforms in the teacher hiring and evaluation process, an effort that is likely to set up a tough fight with local unions.
The reforms, spelled out for the school board by Superintendent Ramon Cortines, include pilot programs linking incentive pay to teacher performance and policy changes that raise the bar for teachers to earn tenure.
The recommendations were contained in a 24-page report presented to the board Tuesday and commissioned a year ago to study teacher performance and hiring and firing policies.
The release of the report coincides with similar legislative efforts by state officials, including a bill introduced by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger last week to end using seniority exclusively when laying off teachers.
Most of the recommendations in the report require changes to state law or negotiations with employee unions.
Union leaders said they will oppose legislative changes and local efforts that threaten teacher protections.
"There will be two ways to do this: They can either negotiate with us, which is the process we believe should be followed, or they can try and push legislative changes, which will inevitably put us in conflict with one another," said A.J. Duffy, president of United Teachers Los Angeles.
Duffy said UTLA opposes any changes that would eliminate teacher protections, such as recommendations to lay off educators based on merit and not just seniority and plans to streamline the teacher dismissal process. Duffy also said the union was opposed to the use of test data in teacher evaluations.
Still, Cortines will be able to test the program at a small number of schools because the district is applying for federal stimulus money that requires the change.
He said he plans to work cooperatively in negotiating with the unions. But he also stressed that he would move forward with changes that are within his control, such as increasing the efficiency of teacher evaluations and professional development programs.
"Now is the time to leap," Cortines said.
The "teacher effectiveness" report is the product of six months of meetings and discussions among some 50 local teachers, administrators, parents, academics and union leaders on a district task force. It was set up last year after board members failed to pass sweeping changes to teacher hiring and firing policies.
The report makes broad recommendations that include ensuring that every student will have an effective teacher by 2016 while also delineating specific recommendations like the inclusion of parent and student input in teacher evaluations
Ted Mitchell, the chair of the task force and president of the State Board of Education, said despite tensions surrounding discussions of teacher performance, he felt the report was valuable because it forced dialogue on issues that had been avoided for a long time and it helped prompt district officials to tighten procedures within their control.
For example, by next year administrators will have to actively decide whether to promote a teacher from non-permanent to permanent, or tenured. Until now, teachers effectively were given tenure, unless an administrator raised concerns, making it a passive process.
"We know we are dealing with a car that needs to be redesigned ... but while we work on those redesign plans, we can change the spark plugs and give the car a tune-up so that it runs better," Mitchell said.
Some board members expressed deep concerns that no real changes could happen soon on some of the biggest issues that they'd asked task force to tackle.
Tamar Galatzan was one of the board members who last year attempted to change teacher firing policies to allow local school districts to have the final decision on who stays and who goes.
"Everybody knew that the system was broken," Galatzan said.
"So we asked for this task force to study the issues and a year later they confirmed that it's broken ... but there is still nothing we can do about it and that is incredibly frustrating."