Union-backed bill to stem teacher lay-offs fails to advance

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DENVER — A proposal to roll back some of the recent changes to state law that have made it easier for school districts to move or replace teachers couldn’t get enough support from lawmakers to move forward at the Capitol.

Under the “mutual consent” provision of 2010’s Senate Bill 191, districts are able to move teachers out of their current schools and to put teachers unable to find jobs in other schools on unpaid leave.

The state’s largest teachers union, the Colorado Education Association, filed a lawsuit in January challenging that piece of the educator effectiveness law on the grounds that it violates the due process of experienced teachers.

But the CEA was apparently willing to consider withdrawing the lawsuit should lawmakers approve a fix on their own; and the union strongly supported House Bill 1268, which would have prevented school districts from being able to place experienced non-probationary teachers on permanent unpaid leave.

But on Monday, a frustrated Rep. Joe Salazar, D-Commerce City, the bill’s sponsor, moved to kill the legislation because he didn’t have enough votes to get it out of the House Education Committee.

Addressing the committee, Salazar criticized Denver Public Schools, the defendant in the CEA lawsuit, for not coming to the negotiating table.

DPS, Salazar argued, has placed nearly 3,000 teachers, more than half of its teacher workforce, on what it calls “reduction-in-building” status, which essentially requires them to seek placement in another school or reapply for their old job, despite not being rated “ineffective.”

“DPS is doing only what the 2010 General Assembly said it could do,” Salazar told the committee. “The problems stemming from 2010 are a legislative mess requiring a legislative fix.”

Salazar said he’d continue to work with stakeholders on a legislative fix to introduce in 2015.

Democrats for Education Reform blasted Salazar for “[backing] out of a transparent discussion on his bill that would have mandated the return of forced placement of teachers” and “sharing misinformation” about DPS.

“This bill was a slap in the face to SB 191, known as the Great Teachers and Leaders Law,” said Jennifer Walmer, DFER-CO State Director. “SB 191 was passed in 2010 to provide our children with the best teachers possible by making sure principals have a say in the placement process.

“Despite references to bringing back the legislation next year, Rep. Salazar should know: forced placement laws that prioritize politics over the needs of kids aren’t welcome in Colorado.”

Meanwhile, CEA vented about the bill’s demise on Twitter:

“Placing a nonprobationary teacher on indefinite leave without pay is tantamount to a termination and should trigger that teacher’s due process rights. If a teacher need to be dismissed, there is a fair process outlined in the law and should be followed,” said CEA President Kerrie Dallman in a statement.

“The problems stemming from 2010 is a legislative mess and we want to see a legislative fix. While DPS is basically the only bad actor misapplying the law on such a grand scale, we know any school district could mirror DPS’ behavior under the statute and dismiss good teachers without cause.”

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