Senator Aaron Osmond represents Utah Senate District 10. Osmond serves on the Utah Legislature’s Public Education Appropriations Subcommittee. He is sponsoring the Education Employee Reform Act during the Utah Legislature’s 2012 General Session. The bill eliminates the Orderly Termination Act and make changes to how educators are evaluated, paving the way for local districts, not the state, to set policies to manage their workforce, to eliminate so-called “teacher tenure” and implement performance pay. These concepts have the Utah State Board of Education’s support. (Read Sen. Osmond’s follow-up to this blog post “Lessons Learned and Next Steps: Sen. Osmond Discusses Public Education Reform Bill Feedback.”)
I am genuinely interested in understanding your perspective as we evaluate this important proposed legislation. I will listen to and act on the information that I receive.
As I have met with parents, educators, and administrators, many have asked me if I could simplify the details of the proposal down to a few bullet points that we could easily discuss and compare. Here are the key points of the proposed legislation as I see them. I have also included the motive/goal, the risks, and benefits below each point to help you better understand why each item is being proposed:
1) Local Control of Due Process It is proposed that we remove all language related to Orderly Termination from our State Laws. Instead, the State will set up a new law that requires each School District to have and follow their own “due process” policies and procedures for the hiring, evaluation, and firing of employees (classified employees, educators, and administrators) at a local level.
a. Motive/Goal The goal is to reduce and decentralize state control over education employment and to further empower local control in the hands of our school districts. We also want to reinforce that “one-size does not fit all”. For example: policies that may work for urban districts will not always work for rural districts.
b. Risks The Orderly Termination Act has provided districts with state law about how public education employment problems are to be handled. It provides a consistent “due process” guideline for the evaluation and termination of employees across the state. Removing this state law makes each district accountable to provide their own policies which may or may not be reliable and defensible in a court of law should an employment action be challenged. Some district leaders and some attorneys are nervous that this could become a costly legal problem when inconsistencies in policies between districts are challenged.
c. Benefits The key benefit is that it enables our local schools districts and boards to make their own policies and work closely with their own constituents to form policies that meet their local needs and realities. Many feel that with the new Teacher Evaluation Guidelines being developed and rolled out by the State Board of Education, they will have a reliable and consistent evaluation tool set to protect them. This will reinforce local control and reduce the risks mentioned above.
2) Fixed Contracts instead of a Guarantee of Continued Employment It is proposed that we change the employment law relative to public education employees from a “guarantee of continued employment” sometimes referred to as “tenure” to a fixed contract relationship of varied contract lengths based on the employee type. Under this model the state would establish maximum contract lengths for each employee type. Districts would be able to negotiate a contract of any length up to the maximum contract lengths set by the state.
a. Important Note: The proposed bill understands that some of our long-term experienced educators may not want to move from their current employment relationship. As such, the bill provides for an “opt-out” clause, allowing these educators to stay in their current employment model for up to 10 additional years before they must move to the new contract model. However, by doing this they also “opt-out” of all performance pay opportunities.
b. Motive/Goal It is clear that public employees are unique in that they are employed by the government and thereby must be held to higher employment process standards than private employers are, and that these government jobs usually pay much less than the private sector. With that said, in our current economic reality, there is a growing public sentiment that no public employee should have an expectation or a guarantee of continued employment when private employees have no such benefit. Moving to contracts does address this perception, still requiring due process during the term of the contract, but forcing an evaluation of a role by administration on a regular interval, with no obligation that a new contract must be offered, thus creating a true contract employment model with due process built in.
c. Risks Often our educators feel that one of the few benefits left in their teaching field is the concept of a guarantee of continued employment and a more rigorous due process in evaluating their performance. They feel this is a fair benefit in context of their lower salaries (in comparison to the private industry) and the significant social burden they carry as our public educators in helping us to teach (and often help guide/raise) our children. This change could be viewed as another “slap” in the face of an employee population that already feels demotivated and overworked.
d. Benefits Contracts can be effective negotiating tools. When used correctly they can provide employment security and an opportunity to renegotiate and improve terms of employment on a more regular basis. It is also important to note that during the life of a contract, districts will still have the obligation to evaluate performance through established “due process” policies within the district.
3) Salary Ranges It is proposed that the State Board of Education be required to establish a set of salary ranges for each employee type that would be based on the following criteria and would be used as guidelines for educator compensation for all school districts to follow:
i. Specific Role (such as a Math or Science vs. Language Arts or History educator)
ii. Market Demand for that role (market need for the role and difficulty of filling the role)
iii. Years of Experience/Education
iv. Location (urban or rural)
v. Difficulty of the role (inner-city, socio-economic issues, special needs, ESL, etc.)
Under this new salary range, model school districts would be asked to identify how their teachers fall within those ranges and then work to address any disparities over a certain period of time.
a. Motive/Goal The goal here is to provide a method for both districts and employees to differentiate compensation based on value of a given employee. Instead of one-size-fits-all, great educators who are filling challenging jobs such as special needs, who are preparing kids for critical skills in the marketplace, and who are facing unique socio-economic problems, should be compensated more than others that are not.
b. Risks This model could be very difficult to implement with the many unique differences that exist between each district. It could also be very challenging to fund as we seek to meet the appropriate compensation targets for the various roles. In addition, such changes could become a divisive issue between educators and administration when the new ranges are set and it is clear that some roles should be paid less than others.
c. Benefits If used correctly, these new salary ranges will enable districts to truly differentiate and reward the differences in value between different education roles and the employees who fill them. Again, one size does not fit all. This model will enable us to actually address that reality and act on it over time.
4) Performance Pay It is proposed that school districts be required to establish a formal Performance Pay component of an Educator’s total compensation. The pay would be tied to student progress results that they directly influence. The school districts would be able to customize their own performance pay models (as collaborative or individualized), but they must ensure that at least 5 percent of an educator’s total compensation is tied to some performance pay model by a certain date in the future.
a. Motive/Goal The goal here is to financially reward and recognize great educators who are positively impacting student achievement and progress.
b. Risks Educators often work collaboratively in driving student progress and achievement. There is concern that introducing a formal performance pay model may cause educators to stop working together to preserve their own financial incentives and negatively impact the very things we are trying to reward.
c. Benefits If the model is used correctly, districts will have the ability to establish performance pay models that actually encourage collaborative work between educators and enable incremental compensation and rewards for this great effort in a more formal and consistent compensation tool.
Conclusion and Input Requested:
This summarizes the context and details of my proposed legislation. Now the time has come to gather input from our public education employees and educators. I sincerely want to know how you feel about these ideas and what you think the impact will be.
I will be travelling the state with Superintendent Shumway to gather your input. If you are unable to attend these meetings, please send me your thoughts via email. I am genuinely interested in understanding your perspective as we evaluate this important proposed legislation. I will listen to and act on the information that I receive.
Thank you for all you do to help the children of Utah reach their potential.