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Utah bill to change school employment laws advances

Published March 3, 2012 8:02 am

School district employees would be evaluated in four new performance categories.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

It was an unusual sight at the Legislature: Republicans, Democrats, teachers and education leaders all agreed Monday on a bill that would significantly change school employment laws in Utah.

The Senate Education Committee unanimously approved SB64, a bill that aims to hold teachers, administrators and other district employees more accountable for their performance by tying it to pay and continued employment. The bill now moves to the Senate floor for consideration.

"What's exciting about this bill is there is a general agreement that though these changes are going to be challenging, all the stakeholders I've worked with are in general agreement we need these changes in order to take education to the next level," said bill sponsor Sen. Aaron Osmond, R-South Jordan.

For district employees, including teachers, the bill would establish four new performance categories based on annual evaluations. An employee who receives a low rating would not be allowed to get scheduled raises. An employee who performance is rated poor twice in three years could be fired. The bill also would limit the time given to administrators to remediate poorly performing teachers to 120 days before they would have to make an employment decision.

The bill also would require that administrators undergo annual evaluations based on student achievement, leadership skills, ability to complete teacher evaluations and other areas decided by a local school board. Districts would have to begin paying administrators based on their evaluations over time, eventually tying at least 15 percent of their pay to performance.

But some committee members expressed concerns Monday. Sen. Howard Stephenson, R-Draper, for example said he'd like to see a limit placed on the percentage of teachers in a school who could earn top ratings, and he wondered why the bill didn't include changes that would mandate teacher evaluations be based on student achievement.

Sen. Lyle Hillyard, R-Logan, conveyed similar concerns, saying he worries administrators would be tempted to give superior ratings to every teacher.

Osmond told lawmakers his bill would require schools to publicly release the numbers of employees in each category. He said it's important to take one step at a time — his bill being a significant first step. State Superintendent Larry Shumway also assured lawmakers that evaluations being developed by state education leaders will very likely contain student achievement components.

But overall, the bill garnered praise Monday from factions that don't always see eye-to-eye. Osmond spent months meeting with teachers across the state and talking to education leaders and groups in crafting his bill.

Stephenson called it "landmark legislation" and Sen. Karen Morgan, D-Cottonwood Heights, called it "long overdue."

Matt Piccolo, with the conservative Sutherland Institute, called the bill "a step forward," and Utah Education Association (UEA) president Sharon Gallagher-Fishbaugh said it will ensure "quality instruction in every classroom."

It's still unclear how much implementing the bill would cost, though Shumway said he expects it will be "minimal."