A proposed state constitutional amendment would cancel teacher tenure in Missouri and change how public school teachers are evaluated.
Secretary of State Jason Kander's office confirmed last week it's processing an initiative petition submitted March 15 by Jefferson City lawyer Marc Ellinger, on behalf of a group called TeachGreat.org.
If the proposal gets to the Nov. 4, 2014, general elections ballot, Missouri voters will be asked to add new sections to the state Constitution's education section, Article 9, including requiring:
• All public school teachers to be "at will" employees - as most people who work in the state already are - rather than having "permanent" contracts as current law establishes.
• All districts that receive any state or local tax funding to limit teacher contracts to three years or less.
Under current law, a teacher who's been hired by the same district for more than five years is classified as "permanent," with a continuing contract that automatically renews.
Current state law also requires districts to release probationary teachers before permanent ones, if layoffs are required, and to rehire the permanent teachers first.
• All districts receiving state or local tax funding to develop a "standards-based performance evaluation system," with a majority of the evaluation "based upon quantifiable student performance data as measured by objective criteria."
District administrators would be required to base hiring or discipline decisions on the evaluation.
• Anyone filing a lawsuit challenging a district's decision to "establish that the school district failed to properly utilize the standards based performance evaluation system."
The fourth part of the proposed amendment creates legal reasons for "demoting, removing, discharging or terminating a contract" outside the evaluation system, including a "physical or mental condition unfitting him to instruct or associate with children; immoral conduct; incompetency, inefficiency or insubordination in line of duty; unreasonable absence (or) conviction of a felony or a crime involving moral turpitude."
And the last part of the proposal keeps employees' rights to organize and bargain collectively - "except with respect to the design and implementation of the performance based evaluation system" the amendment would require, if passed.
Kate Casas, state director for the Children's Education Council of Missouri, supports the proposal.
"Over the last several years, (there have been) lots of advances made in (how) to evaluate how teachers are performing," she said.
"With the ability to create those kinds of evaluations for teachers, it seems like the next logical step is to make sure that Missouri is using these kinds of evaluations to determine who should be in the classroom ... to make sure we're protecting great teachers."
Last week, the Missouri National Education Association announced its opposition to the proposed amendment because it would "remove local control of teacher evaluation and mandate the use of state controlled standardized test scores in teacher evaluation."
A former teacher, Casas said today's teacher evaluations also must be approved by the state Elementary and Secondary Education department - and generally are too subjective.
Under the proposed amendment, she added: "There would still be a component based on an administrator's observation, but much more of it would be based on an objective measure."
The MNEA said the proposal "does not recognize the other factors that affect student achievement and the real issues that influence teacher quality."
Chris Guinther, a Francis Howell School District teacher on leave because she's the MNEA's current president, said: "Everyone should be held accountable for student success, but specifically attacking teachers distracts from the real problems facing our schools - chronic underfunding, overcrowded classrooms and unfulfilled promises from the Legislature."
But, Casas said, "I would think that the very best teachers are going to find a way to move every student forward, regardless of what they come into the classroom with. ...
"You're really looking at how much growth did each kid in that classroom have in that school year? ... No matter where the kids come to you, your job as a teacher is to move them forward."
The proposed amendment eliminates tenure, a condition that opponents say protects bad teachers from being fired or disciplined.
Supporters say tenure just requires district administrators to show, with supporting documentation, why a disciplinary action is needed - and that it protects teachers from being disciplined on a whim or because an administrator doesn't like or get along with a particular teacher.