Educators meet on teacher appeals

In an unusual gathering, a wide range of educators who often clash with Gov. Bobby Jindal met behind closed doors Tuesday with Jindal aides and others to consider ways to revamp the way teachers appeal dismissals.

The issue, which has sparked a lawsuit, revolves around who and how appeals are heard.

One of Jindal’s education overhaul bills from 2012 — called Act 1 — set up a three-member panel to hear the appeals.

Teacher union leaders have said for years that the review team is stacked against them 2-1 because they include representatives of the district’s superintendent, the school’s principal and the teacher’s designee.

A district judge ruled last week that the panel is unconstitutional after a challenge from a teacher in the Monroe City School District.

One of the ideas tossed around would replace the panel with an arbitrator to review teacher sanctions.

Leaders of two teacher unions said Tuesday they were encouraged by the talks, which took place in Jindal’s office without the governor.

Steve Monaghan, president of the Louisiana Federation of Teachers, said he is hopeful that educators and members of the Jindal administration will reach agreement on changes.

“Right now, there is a consensus that the panels don’t work,” Monaghan said.

Debbie Meaux, president of the Louisiana Association of Educators, agreed.

“There are some ideas that we like,” Meaux said during a break in the closed-door meeting. “What we come up with ... is going to be much better than what the current procedure is.”

Jimmy Faircloth, a Pineville attorney who has represented the state in challenges to Act 1, said after the meeting that the appeals process could be streamlined with a neutral hearing officer or officers.

“We want a process that will work,” said Faircloth, a former Jindal aide.

Jindal and teacher unions have been at odds for years.

The LAE and LFT opposed the 2012 law, which is best known for making it harder for teachers to earn and retain a form of job security called tenure.

Both groups have attacked the law in court, and both are expected to back bills during the 2014 legislative session that would change the law.

For his part, Jindal has accused teacher unions and other opponents of some of his education bills as beholden to the status quo.

Others at the meeting included Scott Richard, executive director of the Louisiana School Boards Association; Patrice Pujol, president of the Louisiana Association of School Superintendents and superintendent of the Ascension Parish school system; Michael Faulk, Central school system superintendent; Keith Courville, executive director of the Associated Professional Educators of Louisiana; and Stafford Palmieri, an aide to Jindal.

Meaux’s group backs a bill by state Rep. Randal Gaines, D-LaPlace, that would let teacher appeals be heard by a panel of arbitrators representing employees, employers and neutral parties.

“But nothing is set in stone,” she said of Tuesday’s discussion.

Meaux said the parties agreed to review the issue with their own groups, then possibly meet again next week.

The 2014 Legislature begins March 10.