Eliminating tenure the right thing to do
In a scurry to pass a school funding bill earlier this month, the Kansas Legislature somehow managed to add an amendment that repealed teacher tenure. Since then, it seems we have been bombarded with many negative comments through different media streams from various levels of educators, newspaper editors and some legislators themselves. The latest article of note published in The Hays Daily News on April 20 was written by Michael Smith, who is by his own words, an associate professor of political science at Emporia State University.
As of July 30, I am a former board of education school board member, having served 16 years in our small district, Wheatland USD 292. I would like to offer an opinion of tenure from my side of the fence.
BOE members are elected by their patrons to see the school district provides the best possible education for their children to thrive and succeed in life. It is a multifaceted, overwhelming and mind-boggling job for the newly elected, and a constant challenge for all to keep abreast of ever changing policy, politics and red tape. Financial challenges and decisions alone are constant and critical, especially in today's environment. In school districts across Kansas, board members deal with and are held accountable by their patrons with budgets that are, in most districts, multiples of millions of dollars. The time spent in actual BOE meetings is miniscule compared to the time spent actually doing the job. It is a job of community service -- no pay.
The board is in charge of hiring a superintendent and to hold him or her accountable to lead and carry out those endeavors. In turn, it is that superintendent's job to hire the appropriate employees to do the various jobs in the district and to hold them accountable. The certified staff, such as teachers, have access to tenure. The non-certified staff, such as our valuable maintenance, busing, cooking, paras and clerical people, also are part of our important team, who, like the administration, do not have rights of tenure.
Like any other public office, board members are up for ridicule. You might be blasted by an editorial in the paper, or a fundraiser to purchase a guillotine to be used in your behalf "cuz you won't fire da coach." Phone calls can be 24/7, possibly from an upset parent worrying their child's needs are not being met, or one of the CAVE people (Citizens Against Virtually Everything) ranting about an issue they know nothing about. Of course, you still get snail mail, primarily used by the cowardly who don't seem to know how to sign their name.
To be elected by our peers and entrusted to this task, and then to have people like Smith, newspaper editors as well as other "highly educated idiots" tell us in laymen's terms we can not be trusted to know when to let a teacher go is not intellectually logical. It is ludicrous, and down right stupid. Smith states, as well as many of the others, "teachers could be fired by failing popular student-athletes." He forgot to mention coaches favor the board's children in athletic functions, and we hire people because they are our family friends, not because of their qualifications or talent. To twist their misaligned logic a little more, we also allow teachers to have "pets," who usually are the children of their personal friends. We are accused of paying them too much, as they only work 10 months out of the year, have every holiday off, including 10 days to two weeks for Christmas season. Then there are the teachers who "have us in their back pockets," doing and having us believe anything they so desire. On and on it goes.
I assure you all of the above is an insult to every BOE member I have met or corresponded with in my lifetime. I never have been in a board setting where a member had a personal vendetta because of his or her child. I have indeed heard of a few instances in other board rooms, but even then common sense prevailed and the majority of the seven-member board ruled logically, guided by the superintendent or building principal.
There always will be cheap accusations told by the "rumor mill." I think we have to be broad-minded enough to know that kind of lame mentality always will exist.
An administrator who would recommend to the board they non-renew the contract of a tenured or non-tenured teacher without providing evidence of proper professional courtesy would not even get a motion to approve, let alone a majority to pass. That derelict of duty very well could cost them their job.
Good teachers don't need tenure, and poor ones don't deserve it. I do not believe good teachers worry about it. They have more important things to do and worry about. I know of teachers who are not in favor of tenure because they themselves have seen the ugly side with the education of their own children. Tenure is a disgrace to an honorable profession.
I assure you, more time is spent struggling to find the resources to recruit, retain and properly pay our valuable teachers than was ever spent sweating over tenure. While repealing tenure wasn't one of our biggest challenges, our educational system will be much better off without it. It no doubt presents a much bigger problem in larger schools than small, but repeal tenure and that is all the news media can talk about.
Folks, you need to understand the only difference from now, presuming the repeal stands, and the way it used to be, is administration no longer will have to waste a ridiculous amount of time writing and documenting an encyclopedia of redundant crap to do his or her job -- only to then be "interrogated" by a hearing officer, wasting more valuable time and money.
The underlying business principles of successfully educating children are no different than any other successful business, large or small. Unfortunately, every now and then you come across a situation where an employee needs to go.
I applaud the Legislature for repealing tenure. To be honest, I didn't think they ever would have the courage to get it done. It always has seemed to me those I visited with through the years would like to have seen it repealed, but didn't want to chance a seemingly fruitless effort and jeopardize their political career. Repealing tenure is the right thing to do.
Mitch Gillespie, Grainfield, is a former Wheatland USD 292 board member.