The Alaska House passed legislation that would change the tenure system for urban teachers, extending their probationary period from three years to five.
During the probationary period, teachers can be let go without cause. But if they stay in a district long enough, they’re automatically granted the right to be put on an improvement plan before they can be dismissed.
For many in the legislature, the issue of tenure is a personal. A number have been employed as teachers or have family members who work in the education system. Rep. Bob Lynn, an Anchorage Republican, falls into both of those categories. He voted against the bill and he sponsored an amendment striking language that would have allowed schools to revisit a teacher’s tenure periodically.
“We need more teachers in Alaska, not less,” said Lynn. “Why would any teacher who is smart enough to teach want to apply for a job teaching in Alaska when the only thing we can hope for is a phony-baloney tenure on top of a less than good state retirements system?”
While teachers unions have come out against it, supporters of the bill believe that changes to the tenure system are needed to give school districts more flexibility in hiring and firing.
“I taught in a private and public institution, and I wasn’t cut out for it. So I do have a deep admiration [for them],” said Rep. Shelley Hughes, a Palmer Republican. “This is definitely not an attack on teachers, Mr. Speaker. It’s about our children.”
Because of the difficulty of attracting teachers to rural schools, the bill was amended to make an exception for districts with fewer than 5,500 residents. Bush teachers there would only need to work three years in their districts before earning tenure. That amendment was introduced by Rep. Bob Herron of Bethel, and it was supported by a bipartisan mix legislators, both rural and urban.
Rep. Les Gara, an Anchorage Democrat, also tried to attach an amendment to the bill that would have increased the base student allocation by 2 percent. That would have forced a floor debate on the issue of education funding, but the majority voted to table that amendment from consideration.
The bill ultimately passed 28 to 10, with three Republicans joining the minority Democrats in opposition. Rep. Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins of Sitka was the lone minority member to vote for the measure. It will now go to the Senate.
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