Judge to rule Jan. 8 on La. tenure law challenge

Decision expected Jan. 8 on law

The fate of a Louisiana law that makes it tougher for public school teachers to earn and keep a form of job protection called tenure is back in the hands of a state judge who said Friday he will rule Jan. 8 on its legality.

District Judge Mike Caldwell, who heard arguments Friday from a teachers’ union and the state, ruled last December that the teacher tenure part of the 2012 law known as Act 1 was constitutional but he struck down several other provisions.

But in March, Caldwell struck down the entire law because he said it included multiple subjects in a single bill. The judge said he earlier misinterpreted details of how the measure was described in the legislation, including the title.

Then in May, the Louisiana Supreme Court vacated Caldwell’s decision and returned the Louisiana Federation of Teachers’ lawsuit to his court for more arguments. The high court essentially said there was insufficient evidence to toss out the tenure law on grounds it included too many subjects.

LFT attorney Larry Samuel argued Friday there is plenty evidence to shoot the entire law down on those grounds.

The legislation “is a hodgepodge of different objects,” he told Caldwell. “This makes a mockery of the single object requirement. This law, this act … is a sham and it’s a shame.”

But Jimmy Faircloth, an attorney for the state, countered that the LFT is “looking at this thing in such a micro-sense.” Improving teacher quality and student achievement is “a common thread that binds all of this,” he added.

“This thing can have all kinds of sub-threads,” Faircloth argued.

Samuel zeroed in on a portion of the law that allows district superintendents to fire tenured teachers before any hearing is held, which he said is a violation of due process.

Samuel also challenged the three-person post-termination hearing panel, which he said is stacked against teachers. The superintendent, principal and teacher each appoint a member of the panel, but principals are appointed by the superintendent, he noted. The panel’s advisory opinion goes back to the superintendent.

“The superintendent sits as judge and appellate judge,” Caldwell observed.

The judge took the latest round of arguments under advisement and said he will issue a decision at 11 a.m. Jan. 8.

Gov. Bobby Jindal and other backers of Act 1 contend more-stringent tenure rules will improve teacher quality and student scores.

The LFT says the same law requires performance objectives for local superintendents, redefines the role of local school boards, bans the exclusive use of seniority in layoff decisions and allows local officials to revamp salary schedules.

The federation claims the measure, which the group vehemently opposes, was hurried through the Legislature, poorly drafted and included scant public input.