NASHVILLE — Gov. Bill Haslam's plan to free local schools from a state-mandated teacher pay schedule that currently rewards seniority and training is drawing fire from the state's largest teachers' group.
Tennessee Education Association President Gera Summerford called Haslam's proposal, unveiled Tuesday, a "blatant attack on Tennessee's public schools."
"In a time when we all need to be working together to improve student learning, these proposals are counterproductive to our effort to keep students as our top priority," she said in a statement.
The proposal "unfairly ties teacher pay to an evaluation system that has not been proven valid or reliable, and to a data system that does not have a defined process for correcting inaccuracies," Summerford said.
When unveiling his package of bills for this year's annual legislative session, Haslam said Tuesday he wants state lawmakers to "eliminate outdated requirements of state and local salary schedules based strictly on seniority and training and give districts flexibility to set parameters themselves based on what they want to reward."
Current pay schedules are based on years of service and degrees.
Haslam's education commissioner, Kevin Huffman, said he thinks some districts "will look at performance and say we want to pay certain teachers more because they're performing at a higher level."
Other districts "will use it in different ways," Huffman said. "They'll use it for hard-to-staff subject areas. Other districts will say we really like the system we have right now and we're going to maintain the current system."
Huffman said most states don't mandate teacher pay schedules.
Summerford also is taking sharp issue with another Haslam initiative that eliminates average class requirements for schools. It keeps maximum class size mandates.
Calling it a "radical proposal," Summerford said it "will result in every student having less attention from his or her teacher. This proposal is a threat to student learning, because smaller class sizes enhance safety, discipline and order in the classroom."
She predicted it "will result in lower graduation rates and higher juvenile incarceration rates. Students with special needs will have less of the assistance they need."
Haslam said it is "giving the local school systems the option. The class size is to help those schools that maybe are harder schools to teach in, No. 1. ... Again, the maximum class size will not change."
Last year, Haslam dramatically changed teacher tenure laws, tying the process of obtaining and maintaining tenure to student achievement. Republican lawmakers abolished collective bargaining.
The proposal is among 55 bills Haslam announced as part of his package.
Andy Sher is a Nashville-based staff writer covering Tennessee state government and politics for the Times Free Press. A Washington correspondent from 1999-2005 for the Times Free Press, Andy previously headed up state Capitol coverage for The Chattanooga Times, worked as a state Capitol reporter for The Nashville Banner and was a contributor to The Tennessee Journal, among other publications. Andy worked for 17 years at The Chattanooga Times covering police, health care, county government, ...