published Thursday, February 24th, 2011

Bill to set teacher layoff policy


by Adam Crisp

If Georgia has any more teacher layoffs, a bill before the state House would make performance rather than seniority the first criteria in deciding whom to fire.

The bill's author said that, across the country, some systems use "last in, first out" policies that reward teachers who have been on the staff the longest.

"If a district does decide to make layoffs, those decisions should be based on what is best for our kids, and that means keeping our most effective teachers in the classroom," said Rep. Alisha Thomas Morgan, D-Austell. "To do this, our local education systems need flexibility to make employment decisions based primarily on whether a teacher is effectively educating our children."

Under House Bill 257, districts would create reduction-in-force policies that prioritize teacher performance as the most important factor in deciding layoffs, according to a House news release. Experience would be a secondary factor.

Tim Callahan, spokesman for the Professional Association of Georgia Educators, said most systems in the state already use a policy like the one Morgan is proposing.

"It sounds like unnecessary and redundant legislation," Callahan said. "If we get the chance to testify about it, we'll remind legislators that the Georgia School Boards Association provides guidelines on how to carry out a reduction in force."

Whitfield County, which laid off 16 teachers in 2010, uses those guidelines, system spokesman Eric Beavers said.

"We do not have a last-in, first-out policy and consider employee evaluations if a reduction in force is necessary," Beavers said.

In Wisconsin and other states where teacher unions lobby for pay and benefits, collective bargaining, including layoff policies and pay, have resulted in dramatic debates. On Wednesday, Wisconsin Senate Democrats were in the sixth day of a boycott, refusing to show up for debate on $3.6 billion in budget cuts that would gut some public employees' collective bargaining powers.

Georgia and some other Southern states do not allow collective bargaining. Tennessee this year is considering a bill to eliminate collective bargaining rights for teachers.

"This bill might be necessary in a state with collective bargaining, but I don't think it's a smart thing in Georgia," said Callahan, whose Atlanta-based organization advocates for teachers in the Legislature, but is not a union.

Still, the bill has gained some backing. Introduced last week, it is co-sponsored by House Majority Whip Edward Lindsay, R-Atlanta.

"This bill helps children in our state by keeping our most effective educators teaching in their classrooms, regardless of their number of years of service," Morgan said.

about Adam Crisp...

Adam Crisp covers education issues for the Times Free Press. He joined the paper's staff in 2007 and initially covered crime, public safety, courts and general assignment topics. Prior to Chattanooga, Crisp was a crime reporter at the Savannah Morning News and has been a reporter and editor at community newspapers in southeast Georgia. In college, he led his student paper to a first-place general excellence award from the Georgia College Press Association. He earned ...

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