Teacher layoff bill advances

The panel advanced another one of Sen. Thurmond's bills that requires teachers' seniority be downplayed in layoff decisions during budget cuts. It requires districts' "reduction-in-force" policies to consider teachers' classroom effectiveness as the most important factor in deciding who to let go. Years of experience could be considered only when trying to break a tie between teachers.

The bill requires the guidelines to be part of districts' policies beginning in 2016-17.

- Associated Press

COLUMBIA - Teachers who do not receive a continuing contract could lose their right to appeal, if a bill being discussed in the Senate becomes law.

The Senate bill introduced by Sen. Paul Thurmond, R-Charleston, seeks to streamline the firing of ineffective teachers by eliminating their right to appeal. Though the bill was not voted on, Thurmond said he hopes discussion continues to achieve some sort of reform.

"It is extremely costly and at the same time we still have to pay these teachers that are appealing even though they are not in the classroom," Thurmond said. "I think that we will find some middle ground that addresses the concerns of this process being very long and drawn out, and addresses the concerns that the school board might not be the best option in determining whether someone gets to continue."

The Post and Courier reported in January that the Charleston County School District had shelled out more than $150,000 to pay eight teachers who had not set foot in a classroom this school year because they were undergoing the appeals process.

During Thursday's hearing, Cindy Bohn Coats, Charleston school board chairwoman, said that number has dwindled to four. She added about 1.5 percent request an appeal - of an estimated 3,600 teachers on payroll - but could not provide an average yearly number of teachers whose contracts are not renewed.

Bohn Coats said it's not rare for the hearing of an appeal to take an entire day, which is why she argued in favor of having an arbitrator determine the future of a teacher instead of the school board.

"It is an inordinate amount of time and energy that you're asking districts to spend time on after you've made the decision, 'This isn't a person who should be in my district,' " Bohn Coats said. "You're not taking away their teaching certificate. You're simply saying, not this district."

But Kathy Maness, executive director of the Palmetto State Teachers Association, said if districts follow the process correctly, an ineffective teacher's job can't be saved.

She said underperforming teachers are given notice and placed on formal evaluation for the following year. That process gives teachers the opportunity to improve. If they don't, they are terminated, and the cases of those who appeal are usually resolved by the school board.

Maness said those delays in the appeals process are unheard of in other parts of the state, and that it seems to be a Charleston County issue. She said having four teachers still undergoing the appeals process is unacceptable.

"Those school board members in Charleston, if they're not willing to come and hear these hearings - that's part of the responsibility of being a school board member - then the people in Charleston county need to vote them out," Maness said. "They are paying four teacher salaries because the school board won't come and do their job."

Thurmond rebuffed the notion that the issue was unique to Charleston, adding he's met with many teachers, principals and superintendents throughout the state.

"I think that there is a clear issue both from the process side and also the time that is undertaken to try to address somebody who is underperforming," Thurmond said. "What I hope will come out of this process is more discussion and eventually a bill that addresses this issue that expedites the process and removes some of the barriers to remove a teacher that's underperforming."

Cynthia Roldan can be reached at 708-5891.