Judge upholds most of teacher tenure act

State District Judge R. Michael Caldwell upheld much of a disputed teacher tenure act Tuesday in Baton Rouge.

Steve Monaghan, president of the Louisiana Federation of Teachers, the organization that filed suit against the state in June, said of the new law: “It essentially guts teacher tenure.”

The one section of the new law that Caldwell found unconstitutional would have transferred much of the power school boards hold to hire and fire teachers and other employees to school principals and district superintendents.

But 75 percent of the new law deals with teacher tenure and related issues, and Caldwell ruled those sections were adopted constitutionally.

The LFT, through attorney Larry Samuel, had argued that the new teacher tenure law contained in Act 1 of the 2012 Legislature was unconstitutional. The new law contained eight specified purposes, and Samuel argued the Louisiana Constitution permits only one.

Jimmy Faircloth, an attorney for the state, argued that a law can contain more than one specified purpose as long as all purposes are related to the same issue — in this case, teachers.

Caldwell agreed with Faircloth’s argument, but ruled the first section of the four-section law is unconstitutional because it affects issues that are not sufficiently related to the rest of the new law.

That first section took the power to hire and fire teachers and other school personnel away from school boards and transferred it to school principals and district superintendents.

Also thrown out by Caldwell’s ruling was a new requirement for school boards to establish their superintendent’s performance targets for districtwide student achievement; student achievement at schools rated “C” or lower; graduation rates; graduation rates for schools rated “C” or lower; and the percentage of teachers rated “effective or highly effective.”

The section of the law ruled unconstitutional also would have required school boards to provide the state education superintendent a copy of their superintendents’ employment contracts. School boards also would have been required to notify the state superintendent any time they fire a district superintendent.

The first section of the new law would have required any school board that finds a superintendent “incompetent, unworthy, or inefficient” to fire that superintendent. Existing law simply says the board “may” fire that superintendent.

Caldwell also found unconstitutional the first section’s command that “in no case shall seniority or tenure be used as the primary criterion” for hiring, assigning or firing teachers and other school employees.

The judge’s decision also does away with a provision that would have affected all teacher layoffs. For future layoffs, terminations would have begun with “the least effective teacher” and moved upward.

Both Gov. Bobby Jindal and state Education Superintendent John White expressed appreciation for Caldwell’s decisions.

“We appreciate the judge’s ruling,” Jindal said. “Today’s ruling is a victory for students and teachers. This ruling upholds the core purpose of the law — rewarding effective teachers and supporting ineffective teachers who want to improve.”

White said: “This ruling upholds an important step taken by our state’s Legislature to protect every child’s right to a great teacher. As a result of this landmark legislation, school boards statewide have made bold changes to their layoff and compensation policies that will keep good teachers in the classroom.”

White added: “We await the specifics of the ruling, and we encourage all districts to maintain the reforms they have put in place.”

Monaghan said no appeal of Caldwell’s ruling will be filed without the approval of LFT’s governing board.

“But all signs point to an appeal,” Monaghan added. “What the judge essentially attempted to do was split the baby.” In this case, Monaghan said, that was an impossible task.

The sections of Act 1 that Caldwell ruled are constitutional prohibit any raise for a teacher or administrator the year after she or he is rated “ineffective.”

While teachers who acquired tenure prior to the new law’s enactment retain that tenure today, after July 1, 2012, tenure (job security) is granted only to those teachers who are rated “highly effective for five years within a six-year period.”

And, the new law says, “A teacher paid with federal funds shall not be eligible to acquire tenure.”

In addition, “A teacher who is not awarded tenure remains an at-will employee of the public school board.”

Beginning with the 2013-2014 school year, the new law says “a tenured teacher who receives a performance rating of ‘ineffective’ pursuant to the performance evaluation program … shall immediately lose his tenure.”

And the new law states: “No employee … hired on or after July 1, 2012, shall be eligible to acquire permanent status.”