Battle over proposed teacher-layoff reform

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Battle over proposed teacher layoff reform_328584

HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) — Governor Tom Wolf says he’ll veto a bill that changes the way teachers are laid off during school budget cuts.

This week, House Bill 805 advanced to Wolf’s desk after being passed by the Senate. The bill proposes replacing the current experience-based method of furloughing teachers with a merit-based system.

“Pennsylvania has an archaic law that says if a school district would need to furlough teachers for economic reasons, they cannot let go of the teachers that are the worst performing teachers. Instead, they have to go by blind seniority,” said Rep. Stephen Bloom (R-Cumberland), who sponsored the bill. “It’s about time that our local school districts would have the ability to make a smart, rational decision to make sure the best teachers are in the classrooms with the kids.”

The governor’s office issued a statement, saying in part, “The focus of our policies should not be on how to conduct mass layoffs. It should be about how to invest in our schools.”

At least one Midstate superintendent is wary of more influence from Harrisburg on education. Dr. Michele Orner of the Halifax Area School District in Dauphin County says her district seriously considered laying off teachers recently, due in part to budget shortfalls caused by the state budget impasse and unfunded state education mandates.

“Why are we looking at ways to cut? Why aren’t we trying to solve other issues like pension reform?” Orner asked.

HB 805 would allow districts facing layoffs to use teacher effectiveness rankings to determine which educators get cut first. Those rankings, with ‘Distinguished’ being the highest, followed by ‘Proficient,’ ‘Needs Improvement,’ and ‘Failing,’ are currently determined by a statewide evaluation system implemented in 2013. Bloom says using those results will give districts flexibility and could serve as a ‘tiebreaker’ in difficult layoff situations.

Opponents say the system requires more testing before legislation is drafted around it.

“I’m not arguing with a performance-based approach,” Orner said. “What I’m advocating for is more time to make sure the instrument that has been created is a reliable and valid instrument to judge performance in the classroom.”

In response to the veto threat, Bloom and Sen. Ryan Aument (R-Lancaster) have drafted a letter seeking a meeting with Wolf and reconsideration.

“And ask him respectfully, face-to-face, will you please sign this bill to keep our best teachers in the classrooms with our kids?” Bloom said.Get breaking news, weather and traffic on the go. Download the ABC27 News App and the ABC27 Weather App for your phone and tablet.

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