Mar 05

VASSP Opposition to HB 576 – Contract and Evaluation Policies Legislation

The Virginia Association of Secondary School Principals has made it clear that it does not support the implementation of HB 576 (the Teacher and Principal Contract and Evaluation Policies Bill) as it is written. This bill was developed without the opportunity of Virginia’s education organzations to provide input into the discussion and development of the language of this bill. This lack of consultation has resulted in potential legislation that could create considerable issues related to teacher evaluation and contracts. A full list of reasons and rationale are listed below that outlines the concerns of VASSP.

Virginia Association of Secondary School Principals
Rationale to OPPOSE House Bill 576 –
Teacher and Principal Contract and Evaluation

The Virginia Association of Secondary School Principals, a statewide professional education association, represents middle level and high school principals and assistant principals (AP) throughout the commonwealth. VASSP was founded in 1906 and incorporated in 1974. Our mission is to support school principals and assistant principals in providing leadership to their schools and communities for the purpose of improving the education of Virginia’s youth.
VASSP’s first formal opposition to the Administration’s teacher and principal contract and evaluation bills (HB 576 and SB 438) was expressed in the House Education Committee on February 8, 2012, during which we stated that VASSP opposed implementation of this sweeping change to contract and evaluation policy in Virginia at this time and requested a delay. VASSP believes that all parties should be brought to the table – not just superintendents and school boards – before decisions on such a critical issue are made and not after the fact. It would have been much better if there could have been two separate bills – one for teachers and one for principals. We really are talking about two separate issues.
There are flaws and unknown consequences associated with the language of the Governor’s teacher/principal contract and evaluation legislation, HB 576. The bill simply needs more vetting. The “hurry-up and pass” mentality with the Administration with this legislation is unnecessary and alarming. VASSP Executive Director Randy D. Barrack is a former continuing contract teacher and high school principal and has been the executive director of the state association of middle level and high school principals since 1979. He has always had principals tell him they could do the necessary documentation to dismiss a poor teacher who had “continuing contract status.” Not once has a principal told Dr. Barrack that they could not dismiss a poor teacher in a timely fashion. In fact, he and VASSP Director of Government Relations Elizabeth “Bet” Neale have testified at the General Assembly and Virginia Board of Education on many occasions throughout the years that dismissing a poor teacher is not the problem with improving public school personnel. The onerous state grievance procedure is the problem!
VASSP is disappointed that the Governor did not ask for input from teachers or principals during the initial drafting of SB 438 and HB 576. This legislation affects over 100,000 public school educators and we were not given the courtesy of our professional input. VASSP realizes, of course, that the Governor did not have to do so, but he added insult to injury when his staff asked representatives of the Virginia Association of School Superintendents (VASS) and Virginia School Boards Association (VSBA) to have clandestine meetings to draft the substitute bill. VASSP finds it more than an oddity that principals were not even formally privy to discussions and the decision-making process that resulted in any version of the language included in SB 438 and HB 576, although principals are integral to the implementation of the major change in how teacher contracts are executed and evaluations of instructional personnel are carried out. After much badgering, however, the Administration finally gave VASSP an opportunity to meet with them on Monday, February 13, 2012 – VASS and VSBA representatives in attendance – and to discuss principals’ concerns. The courtesy meeting was to no avail, but VASSP appreciated the effort (even though it was long after the fact of meaningful negotiation).

VASSP has many reasons why principals oppose the teacher/principal contract bill. HB 576 needs lots of work and input by stakeholders, if it is to truly make a difference in improving public school instruction.

Our major opposition points, based on member feedback, include the following:
• Opposition to implementation of a major change to contract and evaluation policy for teachers and principals at this time. VASSP does not believe that a change of this magnitude with major implications and changes to contract status for teachers and administrators should be executed prior to implementation of the newly approved Virginia Department of Education state evaluation system for teachers (effective July 1, 2012) and principals (effective July 1, 2013). Note: The effective date of the proposed contract bill is July 1, 2013, the same date on which the state’s new evaluation policy would go into effect for principals and assistant principals.
• Opposition to a mandatory 5-year probationary period for principals and assistant principals. Before receiving a term contract, a principal or assistant principal would be required to serve a 5-year probationary period. Our members have many concerns about the efficacy of such a policy for administrators and noted that a teacher with a term contract would have to agree to accept another 5-year probationary term in order to be an assistant principal, and, by the same token, an AP would be required to accept the same terms (another 5 years) in order to achieve principal status. With administrators in limited supply and AP numbers going down rather than up (since the Standards of Quality have not been revised as proposed by the Board of Education and accepted, but not funded, by the General Assembly), VASSP believes that the ranks and morale of administrators will be diminished, not increased, and that recruitment and retention will suffer. VASSP also does not believe that such a policy will benefit the education system, not because good administrators are hard to find in the existing teacher population, but because there will be little incentive to draw good teachers into the ranks of the administration. VASSP strongly believes a term contract teacher will be hard pressed to give up that employment security to be in a possible decade-long probationary period to achieve a term contract as a principal. For a teacher to spend 10 years in probationary limbo while attempting to become a term contract principal seems absurd in this day and age, when few administrators want to stay in the principal profession for 10 years! Not changing the probationary period in the proposed legislation will have a devastating effect on the AP/principal candidate pool, which already has become extremely weak in the Commonwealth.
• Opposition to implementation of a revised contract and evaluation policy for teachers and administrators prior to funding for and completion of a series of professional development opportunities to allow for a successful transition to the state’s newly proposed evaluation system. Extensive statewide training on the new evaluation guidelines recently adopted by the Virginia Board of Education is needed for both teachers, principals, and division superintendents. The Administration has an allocation of $415,000 in its proposed biennial budget for the much needed training. This amounts to just $2 per educator for each year of the biennium! VASSP has a major concern that local school boards throughout the state will arbitrarily adopt the new state guidelines – much like they did with the 2001 revised guidelines – without thoroughly reviewing the detailed document. The College of William and Mary Professor James Stronge, the Virginia Department of Education’s consultant that led the development of the new teacher and principal evaluation guidelines, has stated on several occasion that this sea change in evaluation guidelines must be carefully reviewed by each local school board and adopted accordingly to their school divisions’ own needs and practices.
• Opposition to removal of language in the original bill (HB 576) that began the process of defining “just cause.” VASSP believes that one of the strengths of the original bill was addressing the “good and just cause” process and supports the idea that two consecutive years of unacceptable evaluations should constitute “just cause” (or “good cause”). The concept of good cause was ruled not applicable in §22.1-294 – the current law that governs the employment of principals and APs – in 1981 as a result of the Wooten v. Clifton Forge School Board. In this regard, the original draft was much better for principals than the substitute bill.