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Published: Wednesday, 10/19/2011

School officials back pay for performance

Ohio teacher evaluations top seniority

BY TOM TROY
BLADE POLITICS WRITER

Public school administrators believe basing salary and personnel decisions on performance evaluations -- rather than seniority -- is best for the future of Ohio.

Senate Bill 5, which is on the Nov. 8 ballot as Issue 2, has been the source of heated debate since it was signed into law earlier this year. It would cancel many of the collective-bargaining rights teachers and other state employees currently have, while allowing teacher unions to continue to bargain for wages and terms of employment.

Among many provisions, the bill would require school boards to develop a performance-pay system in place of paying teachers based solely on years of experience and level of certification and education. It would also prohibit a board from using seniority as the only factor in making layoffs. And the proposed law allows school boards to opt out of negotiating limitations on their rights to hire, fire, suspend, transfer, discipline, or decide the work assignments of employees.

Teacher Betty Evans, a 40-year teacher and 21-year employee of Toledo Public Schools, criticized Issue 2 during a news conference Monday organized by We Are Ohio, the group trying to defeat the issue.

"Senate Bill 5 opens up the door for favoritism, nepotism, and discrimination, things that we have struggled against for years," Ms. Evans said.

But Toledo Public Schools Superintendent Jerome Pecko disputed that schools would discriminate against employees.

"I don't see it. We're moving in a direction where decisions will be based on performance of the teacher. That's a better direction for us to be going than relying only on a person's seniority," Mr. Pecko said.

He said the state of Ohio and TPS staff are working on performance evaluations for teachers and administrators "so we're all going to be held accountable based on how our students are doing academically. That's a welcome development."

He said the district recently settled two-year contracts with all of its bargaining units, which would delay implementation of performance-based pay to the 2013-14 school year -- if Issue 2 passes.

Jason Mauk, spokesman for Building a Better Ohio, the group campaigning for a "yes" vote on Issue 2, said a school board can continue to take seniority and longevity into account when evaluating an employee.

He said federal laws barring discrimination that have been enacted since the start of the Ohio collective-bargaining law in 1984 will protect teachers, along with the rules of the state civil service system. In addition, he said, the teachers will still have unions that can bargain on their behalf and that can look out for them.

In Toledo Public Schools, in most instances, teacher appointments to the choicest teaching jobs are awarded to the qualified teacher with the most seniority.

The school board's and the superintendent's powerlessness to decide where to assign teachers has long been decried by Toledo community activists. Former TPS Superintendent Merrill Grant attempted during contract talks in 1997 to do away with the seniority system, but dropped the demand in the face of a threatened teacher strike.

Mr. Pecko's optimism that school districts would be able to make hiring, promotion, and salary decisions objectively is not shared by supporters of public unions.

State Democratic Chairman Chris Redfern said Tuesday that he agrees that nepotism will resurface as a factor in personnel decisions.

"We can go back to the days when the superintendent's daughter and son were the first hired or we can continue with hiring people who are the best and brightest based on the merits," Mr. Redfern said.

Mr. Pecko said he is maintaining neutrality on Senate Bill 5. He said there are things he likes in the law, such as doing away with seniority as the only criteria for layoffs, but he said he believes in collective bargaining.

Damon Asbury, director of legislative services for the Ohio School Boards Association, said "people have moved far beyond" using nepotism, favoritism, and discrimination to make personnel decisions.

"Anytime there's evaluation there's always a subjective element. I think by and large school boards want the very best teachers they can have in the classroom, want to see that they're evaluated and compensated fairly," Mr. Asbury said.

He said the Ohio School Boards Association is neutral on the proposed law. While some provisions that expand management rights are supported by the organization, other elements erode local control. He cited the provision prohibiting school boards from negotiating to pick up some or all of their employees' pension contributions as an example of loss of local control.

"Many school districts have used that to save money," Mr. Asbury said.

Contact Tom Troy at tomtroy@theblade.com or 419-724-6058.



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