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San Bernardino, Riverside County, CA November 8, 2005 Election
Smart Voter

Fiddling with Education- Proposition 74

By Tobin Brinker

Candidate for Governing Board Member; COLTON Unified School District; Trustee Area 2

This information is provided by the candidate
This is an Op-Ed article that Tobin Brinker wrote for the Sun Newspaper
Fiddling with Education

Should teachers in California teach two years before they are tenured or should they teach five years first? What are the likely outcomes of changing the tenure law? Will changing the law make our schools better or worse? These are just a few of the important questions voters need to be asking as we approach the November 8th special election.

As a teacher and a school board member I have some insight into the issue of teacher tenure. I have been teaching for ten years. I started my career at Colton High School as a special education teacher. I had an emergency credential and by today's standards I was not highly qualified when I started. I wasn't on tenure track until I switched to an intern credential in my third year. When I cleared my credential at the end of that year I was officially tenured. At the end of my fifth year of teaching I left the Colton School District and got a job in Rialto at Frisbie Middle School. I was untenured again for two more years.

I have been untenured for five of the ten years I have been teaching. I have been evaluated seven of the ten years during that time by numerous administrators. I have had six different principals in those ten years and many more different assistant principals. Two of those principals were exceptional leaders and two were hacks. The hacks viewed evaluations as a club to beat new teachers into submission and the official paperwork as a way to cover their own back sides. The exceptional principals approached evaluations as a tool to build better teachers and invested time and resources into getting it right. Besides being a teacher I am a school board member. Every year around March 15th I start getting calls from untenured teachers that have been notified that they will not be asked to return. Most tell the same story about how the principal barely evaluated them twice during the year for 20 minutes each time. They describe a lack of support and want to know what options they have. Unfortunately, I tell them not many. Most resign quietly and the school board never knows that they were asked to leave. Why do they resign quietly? If they want to get a job somewhere else they will need a reference. If they don't resign then the school board will let them go and they will have that on their record.

In my four years on the board we have never denied an administrator who has given us an untenured teacher to terminate. To do so would be the ultimate vote of no confidence in that administrator. It is also difficult to imagine because the school board does not evaluate the teachers, we must rely on our administrators. Technically a teacher that is being terminated could come before the board and make their case but none have.

Since I have been on the school board we have fired teachers for a variety of reasons. Several years ago we fired 90+ teachers because they were not highly qualified under the "No Child Left Behind Act." Recently we terminated teachers that did not obtain CLAD certification (to teach English Language Learners) in a timely manner. However, we have not fired any tenured teachers for poor work performance. Instead we have several programs designed to help poor performing teachers become better. Our districts lawyers have advised us that it costs about $50,000 dollars to terminate a tenured teacher. The high cost is because teachers almost always fight termination. Many principals do not move forward with termination because it is difficult and risky (no guarantee of success). It has many challenges, such as dividing the staff as teachers take sides; or upsetting the community when children feel their teacher is being attacked; or when the administrator is put on the hot seat as their every move is scrutinized for flaws.

So do we need to have a special election that costs $45 to $80 million dollars to change the tenure law? I don't think so. It is difficult to become a teacher. A person must have four years of college and then a fifth year for their credential program. That is a substantial personal investment before you ever have a job. Once hired the district has two years to decide if you deserve tenure and during that time they can fire you for any reason. If you change school districts you will be untenured again for two years. Part of the reason districts offer tenure is to promote stability at schools. Without tenure, teachers will shop around more for the best pay and that can be a significant difference. As an example, a teacher in the first five years on the pay scale who is in column three for the Colton School District versus a teacher in column three for the Rialto School District will earn $19,219 more over five years by working in Rialto.

I believe that if the governor's reform of the tenure law passes that we will see major instability in the teacher workforce as teachers shop around for better pay. The lowest performing schools in the hardest to teach areas will have an even more difficult time attracting teachers. A bidding war will likely begin and put even more strain on our budgets.

Last year there were 306,553 teachers in California and 35,447 were in their first or second year. That means 11% of the teachers in the state are currently untenured. Two years ago over 4,000 teachers statewide were laid off because of budget cuts and only about 1,000 have been rehired as districts continue to balance budgets with personnel cuts. Over those same two years the state's student population has grown by 77,500 students. It seems to me the governor should be thinking about more ways to attract and hire highly qualified teachers then worrying about how to make it easier to fire teachers.

The governor's initiative is not in the best interest of kids. It is attack politics at its core and it is wrong. It is purely an attack on the teacher's union (a major contributor to the Democratic Party) by a Republican governor who wants to weaken the opposition. It does nothing to address the real problems that are facing our schools today. It is the equivalent of fiddling while Rome burns. We must demand better from our governor.

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