Teacher tenure in Utah?

Yesterday’s blog posting provoked the following comment:

Mary,
It is so very disappointing that despite repeated attempts by many of your blog posters that you continue to perpetuate the myth that our teachers have tenure. Repeatedly saying something does not make it true.

I find it absolutely appalling that anyone would suggest that prinicpals are excused from doing their job. Orderly termination is merely giving a teacher the right to notice and cause for dismissal; not unlike businesses throughout the country.

I worked with a teacher who should not be teaching and three principals did NOTHING! By the way, I was the Association Representative at the time and in this role, I asked that they help this teacher or recommend dismissal.

Teachers are NOT the problem and orderly termination is not the problem. We need to support our administrators and hold them accountable for doing their job. Don’t we ask the same of teachers?

I thought this comment deserved a response outside the comments section.

First of all, hats off to this teacher for attempting to make the system work. I certainly wasn’t trying to let administrators off the hook.

But IS it really a myth that Utah teachers have tenure? It’s true that Utah law doesn’t use the “T” word. According to the Utah Orderly School Termination Procedures Act a “‘Career employee’ means an employee of a school district who has obtained a reasonable expectation of continued employment based upon Section 53A-8-106 and an agreement with the employee or the employee’s association, district practice, or policy.”

Note that “a reasonable expectation of continued employment” does not exist in the private sector (except for private universities). Utah state senator Osmond’s proposed legislation (now apparently on hold) would replace this career employee system with a multi-year renewable contract. Whether or not that’s a good idea is certainly open to debate, but much of the controversy this proposal has generated comes from its challenge to a system that sure looks a lot like tenure.

Here’s what one think tank report on teacher tenure has to say about the definition of tenure:

“Part of the challenge in understanding the debate over teacher tenure reform today is that the concept of “tenure” itself is ambiguous and means different things in different contexts and to different people. Though widely misunderstood, tenure essentially amounts to a system in which teachers who have successfully completed a probationary period-typically three years-can only be fired through a lengthy and complicated process that is laid out in the state tenure law and the local collective bargaining contract. Confusion abounds because states use different terms to describe the job protections given to teachers: some states use the term “tenure,” some use “continuing contracts,” and still others refer to the protections as “permanent employment status.” Some states have also passed laws explicitly “ending” tenure, but have created evaluation and/or dismissal processes that nonetheless effectively guarantee permanent employment for the vast majority of experienced teachers.

Today, every state except Wisconsin requires that teachers receive some form of “tenure.” State tenure statutes also typically define specific criteria that teachers have to meet in order to be granted tenure and by which they can be dismissed after earning it.”

You can read the full study here (I actually plan to cite from it further tomorrow.)

http://www.americanprogress.org/issues/2010/02/pdf/teacher_tenure.pdf

Here is the provision of Utah law that delineates procedures for ending “a reasonable expectation of continued employment.”

53A-8-104. Dismissal procedures.
(1) A district shall provide employees with a written statement specifying:
(a) the causes under which a career employee’s contract may not be renewed or continued beyond the current school year;
(b) the causes under which a career or provisional employee’s contract may be terminated during the contract term; and
(c) the orderly dismissal procedures that are used by the district in cases of contract termination, discontinuance, or nonrenewal.
(2) If the district intends to terminate a career employee’s contract during its term for reasons of unsatisfactory performance or discontinue a career employee’s contract beyond the current school year for reasons of unsatisfactory performance, the unsatisfactory performance must be documented in at least two evaluations conducted at any time within the preceding three years in accordance with district policies or practices.
(3) (a) A district shall notify a career employee, at least 30 days prior to issuing under Subsection (3)(d) notice of intent not to renew or continue the career employee’s contract beyond the current school year, that continued employment is in question and the reasons for the anticipated nonrenewal or discontinuance.
(b) If a career employee receives a notice under Subsection (3)(a) that continued employment is in question, the board:
(i) shall give the career employee an opportunity to correct the problem in accordance with the district evaluation policies; and
(ii) may grant the career employee assistance to correct the deficiencies, including informal conferences and the services of school personnel within the district.
(c) If a career employee does not correct the deficiencies as determined in accordance with the evaluation and personnel policies of the district and the district intends to not renew or discontinue the contract of employment of the career employee at the end of the current school year, it shall give notice of that intention to the employee.
(d) The district shall issue the notice at least 30 days before the end of the career employee’s contract term.
(4) (a) A district is not required to provide a cause for not offering a contract to a provisional employee.
(b) If a district intends to not offer a contract for a subsequent term of employment to a provisional employee, the district shall give notice of that intention to the employee at least 60 days before the end of the provisional employee’s contract term.
(5) In the absence of a notice, an employee is considered employed for the next contract term with a salary based upon the salary schedule applicable to the class of employee into which the individual falls.
(6) If a district intends to not renew or discontinue the contract of a career employee or to terminate a career or provisional employee’s contract during the contract term:
(a) the district shall give written notice of the intent to the employee;
(b) the notice shall be served by personal delivery or by certified mail addressed to the employee’s last-known address as shown on the records of the district;
(c) except as provided under Subsection (3), the district shall give notice at least 30 days prior to the proposed date of termination;
(d) the notice shall state the date of termination and the detailed reasons for termination;
(e) the notice shall advise the employee that the employee has a right to a fair hearing and that the hearing is waived if it is not requested within 15 days after the notice of termination was either personally delivered or mailed to the employee’s most recent address shown on the district’s personnel records; and
(f) the notice shall state that failure of the employee to request a hearing in accordance with procedures set forth in the notice constitutes a waiver of that right and that the district may then proceed with termination without further notice.
(7) (a) The procedure under which a contract is terminated during its term may include a provision under which the active service of the employee is suspended pending a hearing if it appears that the continued employment of the individual may be harmful to students or to the district.
(b) Suspension pending a hearing may be without pay if an authorized representative of the district determines, after providing the employee with an opportunity for an informal conference to discuss the allegations, that it is more likely than not that the allegations against the employee are true.
(c) If termination is not subsequently ordered, the employee shall receive back pay for the period of suspension without pay.
(8) The procedure under which an employee’s contract is terminated during its term shall provide for a written notice of suspension or final termination including findings of fact upon which the action is based.

Utah law: http://le.utah.gov/UtahCode/section.jsp?code=53A-8

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