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Measure Would Repeal Teacher-Tenure Law in Colo.

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Gov. Roy Romer of Colorado is expected this week to sign a bill repealing the state's tenure law for teachers and replacing it with a new statute making it easier for school districts to dismiss teachers who are performing poorly.

While preserving the due-process rights now enjoyed by tenured teachers, the bill for the first time adds "unsatisfactory performance" to the list of acceptable grounds for dismissing a teacher.

It also removes the word "tenure" from the law governing teacher employment.

Instead, the new law specifies probationary status for teachers who have not completed three consecutive years of employment with a school district. After that time, teachers are presumed to have continuing contracts with their districts.

Dan Morris, president of the Colorado Education Association, said removing the word tenure was a "perceptual," rather than substantive, change in the law.

"The word itself has connotations of lifelong employment," Mr. Morris noted, "even though it means due process."

The legislation was a compromise between some members of the legislature, who backed a bill to give4teachers one- or three-year employment contracts, and members of a special task force appointed by the Governor to review the tenure law. The final version of the measure was supported by the c.e.a.

Reducing Litigation

Mr. Roemer had made revision of the tenure law a key issue in his agenda for the legislature's current session. He argued that school districts should be able to remove teachers who had demonstrated unsatisfactory performance. Districts also need to avoid the "lengthy and expensive litigation associated with tenure disputes," he said.

The Colorado Association of School Executives and the Colorado Association of School Boards also backed the bill, which represented the fourth attempt to revise the state's tenure laws in the past 10 years.

"We think it will be easier, quicker, and cheaper to get rid of a tenured teacher under this bill," said Phil Fox, a lobbyist for both associations.

Proving that a teacher is incompetent--the standard in existing law--took school districts an average of two years and $70,000 in legal fees, he added.

Under the new law, which takes effect July 1, each of the state's 176 school districts will be required to set its own definition of "satisfactory performance" against which teachers will be evaluated.

The evaluations, which must be performed by certified administrators trained in evaluation skills, will be done regularly and must include a description of the district's definition of satisfactory performance.

In cases where school districts seek to fire teachers for unsatisfactory performance, the evaluations will serve as documentation for the procedure.

Chance for Improvement

But the law also specifies that teachers must be given written improvement plans, which can include recommendations for additional education and training, before the district can move to dismiss them.

Mr. Morris said the process builds "accountability and responsibilityel15linto the dismissal process" for school boards and administrators as well as for teachers.

In cases where school districts seek to dismiss teachers for the grounds already contained in state law--including physical or mental disability, incompetence, neglect of duty, insubordination, immorality, conviction of a felony, or other "good and just cause"--the evaluations will not serve as the basis for the procedings.

The new law also limits to 120 days the hearing procedure for teachers recommended for dismissal. Currently, the process is open-ended.

In addition, charges against a teacher will be heard by a hearing officer, instead of by an administrative-law judge.

In cases where a school board dismisses a teacher against the recommendation of a hearing officer, the new law specifies a more rigorous appeal process, which the c.e.a. believes will strengthen teachers' positions.

Gerry Difford, executive director of the school executives' association, said he did not think the new regulations would result in more teachers being dismissed.

"Most people, if you really work with them in an evaluation system, don't end up going to dismissal," he said. "They quit on their own.''

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