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Issue 2 camps differ over impact on teachers

October 28, 2011
By Brad Bauer - The Marietta Times ( , The Marietta Times

How hard it is -or isn't - to fire a teacher and who should be vulnerable when layoffs become necessary are among some of the sticking points in how Ohio's Issue 2 could affect education.

Proponents for the state issue, which would reshape Ohio's collective bargaining laws for many public employees, maintain its passage will ensure children will get the best education possible.

Connie Wehrkamp, spokeswoman for Building a Better Ohio, said when school districts have no other choice but to reduce staff levels, the current system forces districts to cut the teachers with less seniority first, regardless of how well they do their jobs.

"The concept of "last hired, first fired" can hurt some of our best teachers," she said. "We recognize experience is a key factor but it shouldn't be the sole consideration in a decision to keep or remove a teacher in facing budget issues."

Chrissy Wolfe, a fourth-grade teacher at Washington Elementary School, is in her seventh year teaching, but said most teachers in her building and across the district have many more years of service. Still, she said she would support keeping veteran teachers ahead of younger, less-experienced teachers.

"I've learned from our veteran teachers," she said.

Also, Wolfe said without protection administrations might be tempted to let go veteran teachers, who typically earn more, just to keep less-experienced teachers, who would earn less.

"I think that's a real possibility," she said.

Dora Jean Bumgarner, interim superintendent at Fort Frye Local Schools, said in her 19 years experience as an administrator she has seen instances where younger teachers have outperformed some veteran teachers.

"It doesn't happen often," Bumgarner said, who added that she and other superintendents have been instructed not to take a public stance on Issue 2.

Another issue addressed by the ballot issue is the hiring or firing of a teacher. Wehrkamp said that it is currently too hard to fire an ineffective teacher in Ohio.

"There are definitely contracts in place that in many ways make it difficult to address problems in the classroom," she said. "Many contracts have proven to protect bad teachers."

Kim Depue, veteran Marietta Middle School teacher and president of the MEA, said it's an argument she takes great exception to.

"This is the big argument you always hear when you talk about this issue," she said. "We do not defend bad teachers. As president of (MEA) I'm not going to defend a bad teacher. I want my profession to be upheld and I have high expectations for my profession and our teachers. Our union simply ensures just cause. It makes sure the firing process is done fairly."

Bumgarner agreed with Depue.

"There are adequate steps school systems can utilize," she said. "I don't think that's much of an issue."

Depue said her union also argues for smaller class sizes and for keeping the most effective teachers available to the most students.

Depue pointed to a recent incident where several teachers were set to be "arbitrarily" moved as an example why Issue 2 should be defeated.

In May, teachers filed a grievance over 17 involuntary transfers of teachers. Depue said the moves were either "arbitrary or punitive" and would have resulted in teachers with exceptional reviews being moved to less-familiar roles.

"Because of our contract language, we were able to keep those teachers where they belonged, serving the best needs of the students," she said. "Our contract also allows us to bargain for smaller class sizes, which also creates a better teaching environment."

Pay raises is another issue where Issue 2 could impact teachers.

According to Wehrkamp, Issue 2 allows for a teacher's job performance to be considered when determining pay raises, rather than just awarding automatic increases based only on length of service. Under Issue 2, teachers will maintain their ability to collectively bargain on wages and will also collectively bargain over how performance-based raises will be determined and distributed.

Depue said the majority of Ohio's teachers will qualify for the so-called "merit pay."

"The majority of our teachers are good teachers, so they're going to get that incentive," she said. "You're just trading step raises for merit pay."

Bumgarner said the concept of merit pay is difficult because it deals with students, who learn in different ways and paces.

"It is hard to measure student progress, especially when you are dealing with people," she said.



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