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Toledo Union Eliminates Peer-Review Program

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The Toledo Federation of Teachers last week canceled its highly regarded peer-review program in a dispute with the school board over extra pay for principals.

The school board voted last week to pay elementary principals an extra $515 for administering a new state proficiency test for 4th graders. Supporters argued that principals should receive extra pay for extra work as teachers have done.

When the board voted in favor of the payments, the union made good on weeks of threats to cancel the peer-review program at the end of the school year.

The teachers' union had argued that the district should postpone discussions of such extra pay until January, when all of its employee contracts expire. (See Education Week, 4/5/95.)

Sour Relations

The demise of the program, which won national acclaim for focusing the union on professional issues, grew out of a dispute over traditional labor practices.

Toledo's nine bargaining units historically have engaged in "linked bargaining," attempting to divvy up money equitably among employees. The teachers' union charged that the district was violating that tradition by offering principals extra pay outside the collective-bargaining process.

"We don't take any great pleasure or pride in where we're at right now," said Dal Lawrence, the president of the teachers' union, an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers. "This is an enormous price to pay."

Mr. Lawrence also complained that labor-management relations in the district had soured considerably over the past year, despite participation by both parties in training offered by the University of Toledo's labor-relations center.

Patricia Kennedy, the school board president, called the union's decision unfortunate. She noted that the peer-evaluation program for teachers had nothing to do with the payments to principals.

Board members, she said, refused to be swayed by the threats.

"We're just not going to play that game," Ms. Kennedy said. "Principals used to evaluate teachers before, and surely they can do it again."

Under the intern-intervention program, referred to as the Toledo Plan, all teacher evaluations in the district were conducted or reviewed by practicing teachers.

A group of the district's top teachers were relieved from their teaching duties for up to three years and paid to work with beginning teachers and teachers having problems in the classroom.

Since the evaluation program began during the 1981-82 school year, 1,669 new teachers have been evaluated. Of those, 55 were not offered new contracts, 10 were terminated, and 64 resigned.

More than 40 veteran teachers were counseled under the intervention part of the plan. Some were removed from their jobs, while others resigned, retired, or were transferred to nonteaching jobs.

Breaking New Ground

The Toledo Plan, the first of its kind, was hailed by proponents as helping to make teaching more professional. It broke new ground by changing the union's relationship with its members. Instead of defending teachers against administrators who might move to fire them, union members policed their own ranks and counseled teachers who were not performing satisfactorily.

Over the years, a few other teachers' unions created similar plans, including unions in Columbus, Ohio; Cincinnati; and Rochester, N.Y. Despite national acclaim, however, the plans failed to spread farther.

Now, instead of enforcing professional standards, the Toledo Federation of Teachers will revert to a protective position, Mr. Lawrence said. Under Ohio's labor laws, he noted, it takes districts about two years to fire a teacher.

Mr. Lawrence, who plans to retire in about 18 months, said the program had been his legacy.

"To have to have a situation like this end the program is not easy for me," he said, "I guarantee you."

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