Debate over teacher layoff criteria continues
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U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan favors considering multiple factors in making decisions about "everything" in public schools, including determining who will be furloughed.
Pittsburgh Public Schools and its teachers are at odds over whether only seniority and certification area -- as is required in the union contract -- should be used to determine who is furloughed or whether the district should be able to consider teacher effectiveness.
The district maintains that if seniority only is used, it will lose some of its best teachers. The union maintains seniority is the only fair way.
Several hundred teaching positions are expected to be eliminated for this fall, an unprecedented number in the district.
The district cannot change the method without union approval.
Provisional furlough notices based on seniority are expected to go out next week, with official notices due by Aug. 1. School Superintendent Linda Lane said the number of provisional furloughs has not been finalized.
"I think folks have to work these things through at the local level," said Mr. Duncan in a phone interview Thursday from Cincinnati, where the U.S. Department of Education and others were hosting a labor management conference.
Whether looking at teachers or schools, he said, "I think we need to have an arrangement of multiple factors in making those tough decisions."
He said that holds for "determining everything," including school performance, district performance, teacher evaluation and teacher furloughs.
He said Pittsburgh can learn from other districts which have tackled the issue.
He cited the state of Illinois, which last year passed legislation that results in the lowest-rated teachers receiving the first layoff notices.
Because of the district's reputation for district-union collaboration, Ms. Lane, school board president Sherry Hazuda and teacher union president Nina Esposito-Visgitis, were invited to present Thursday at the Cincinnati conference called "Collaborating to Transform the Teaching Profession."
When the five-year teacher contract was signed two years ago, the district and the union received attention for collaborating on making changes aimed at increasing teacher effectiveness, including developing more rigorous teacher evaluations, bonus pay and extra pay for new career ladder positions.
"I think it was good for us to do this right now," Ms. Lane said in a phone interview Thursday. "It reminded me of how far we've come."
Ms. Lane said some district and union teams "did not come because they had a falling out before the event. We've never gotten to a place where we said we wouldn't be in the same room." Both sides expressed their positions on seniority in the presentation.
In a phone interview Thursday, Ms. Esposito-Visgitis said, "I think people appreciated honesty in the sessions ... the truth about how hard it is."
She said, "We are having a rough spot, but we still need to celebrate all the great things we've done."
First Published May 25, 2012 12:00 am