Recently in the news, there has been a lot of spotlight surrounding the education system of Pennsylvania. Right now, as Pennsylvania law stands, school districts are prohibited from furloughing teachers for budgetary reasons but staff cuts can be made in the face of declining enrollment or when entire programs are eliminated. However, when teachers are eliminated/laid off for whatever reasons, the eliminations/layoffs are based on seniority. In other words, the last teacher hired is the first one fired.
As of today, that long-standing rule may be changing. Pennsylvania school districts may be able to dismiss their more senior teachers in favor of their most qualified. Recently, the Pennsylvania House Education Committee, in a 16-8 vote, has green lighted a new Bill that would eliminate state-mandated seniority protections for teachers.
The new Bill – House Bill 1722 – proposes amending state law to protect excellent educators in the classroom. The proposed amendment to the 1949 Public School Code allows for school districts to eliminate or layoff teachers based on performance rather than seniority.
State Rep. Jake Wheatley was one of two Democrats who voted in favor of amending Pennsylvania’s 1949 Public School Code. Mr. Wheatley stated, “[t]he last time we had cuts, we lost 16 distinguished teachers not based on anything but seniority. If we’re going to have to make tough decisions, we have to be sure districts can make decisions that are fair and equitable[.]”
State Rep. Tim Krieger, R-Westmoreland, also sponsored House Bill 1722. He stated the Bill will “protect good teachers and make schools better.” Mr. Kriger also stated that, “[i]f you’re a young teacher, and you’re doing a great job, you shouldn’t be furloughed because you haven’t been there that long[.]” House Bill 1722 will do exactly that and prevent an exceptional teacher from losing his/her job simply because they were the last teacher hired.
How will teachers be evaluated on their performance?
All of the school districts now have an educator effectiveness system in place, making it easier to determine who is having the greatest impact in the classroom. However, although the educator effectiveness system is in place, 499 out of 500 Pennsylvania school districts are still using the seniority-based system.
The one school district that ended the seniority-based system is located in Philadelphia. However, the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers has already challenged the move in court.
What is next?
Teachers’ unions in the state are fighting against this House Bill 1722 by arguing that without the protection they now have, senior teachers who are paid higher salaries will be more vulnerable if cuts are done to save money. However, it is interesting to note that the Pennsylvania School Boards Association and education reform groups support the amendment.
House Bill 1722 has overcome the Pennsylvania hurdle and now awaits a House vote.
Michael Kraemer is a partner with Kraemer, Manes & Associates, a law firm headquartered in Pittsburgh, serving all of Pennsylvania, with attorneys focusing on business law, employment law, litigation, and civil issues. For more information please visit www.lawkm.com.