House OKs overhaul of teacher contracts

Published 11:11 pm Monday, February 13, 2012

By Mechelle Hankerson

Capital News Service

RICHMOND — After undergoing a dramatic edit last week in committee, a bill to fundamentally change how teachers are hired and evaluated passed the House on a 55-43 vote Monday.

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House Bill 576 would replace continuing contracts with annual contracts for teachers and principals. Teachers not eligible for continuing contracts by the 2013-2014 school year would receive three-year contracts that would not automatically renew.

The legislation, sponsored by Delegate Richard “Dickie” Bell, R-Staunton, would also require that anyone who would work under a contract serve a probationary five-year term before being given a three-year contract.

Local school boards would adopt an evaluation process based on state guidelines, and student academic success would account for 40 percent of the evaluation.

Delegate Kirkland Cox of Colonial Heights applauded Bell’s compromise on the bill and urged his colleagues to approve it.

“This is one I really want to emphasize for the children,” said Cox, the majority leader in the House. “We’re kidding ourselves if we think mediocre teachers are bad teachers.”

Cox, a 12th-grade government teacher, said the bill was just one example of the reforms needed in K-12 education.

“We are naïve if we think public education is perfect. We can make K-12 better by passing this bill,” he said.

Cox’s enthusiasm was met with doubt by House Democrats.

Kenneth Plum and Kaye Kory, Democratic delegates from Fairfax, both favored giving more responsibility to local governments and school boards to determine contract and evaluation terms.

Gov. Bob McDonnell endorsed Bell’s proposal, but Plum reminded the House that McDonnell also has emphasized the importance of local governments throughout the session.

“We should be supporting local governments, not micro-managing from Richmond with the idea being that we’ve been to school, so we know best,” Plum said.

Kory agreed. She also expressed concern about the future of teachers in the state.

“This is not the way to attract good teachers,” she said. “This is a way to drive them out of Virginia.”

Democrats also questioned whether it is necessary to overhaul the rules governing teacher contracts and evaluations.

Delegate Jeion Ward, D-Hampton, serves as president of the Hampton Federation of Teachers. She said there are processes in place to help and replace poorly performing teachers.

“It is very easy to get rid of a bad teacher,” Ward said.

She said administrators typically identify a problem with a teacher and then develop a plan to give the teacher a chance to improve.

After the measure passed, McDonnell issued a statement to thank Bell, a former teacher, for carrying the bill. The governor said the bill is important for Virginia’s students.

“This legislation will recognize our teachers for their success; provide teachers and administrators with benchmarking and performance measures; and, in the end, yield better results for our students,” McDonnell stated.

“I am pleased that the House of Delegates recognizes the importance of this legislation that will ensure our students have access a world-class education taught by Virginia’s best teachers.”

HB 576 now moves to the Senate for consideration.