This year, Governor Bob McDonnell has made education one of his top priorities, and earlier this month he released a three-part plan addressing (1) Teachers, (2) Innovation and Accountability, and (3) School Choice. Many of the Governor’s proposals were addressed by the Board’s legislative package passed last December. But there were still several surprises, and the Board drafted specific positions on those last Thursday night. The draft position language on the issues below will be voted on by the Board this Thursday night:
1) Two percent salary increase for SOQ instructional positions only: On the surface, increases in teacher salaries sound great, but the Governor’s proposal only funds a state match for salary increases for SOQ-funded instructional positions (not support positions), and it also hinges on the passage of the Educator Fairness Act (which, as described in number three below, is problematic). In other words, while Fairfax County taxpayers would have to pay $38 million of the local two percent salary increase, the state would fund only $5 million. The Board responded: “The FCSB supports increases in state funding for salaries for both instructional and support positions without condition on passage of other legislation.”
2) Strategic Compensation Grant: This grant was designed with the compensation system of Salem City schools in mind as a potential model, and it would potentially benefit only 3,000 teachers around the Commonwealth. As a result, the Board responded: “The FCSB is concerned about whether a new grant program is the best use of $15 million in state funds given cuts in other K-12 programs, particularly the cut to Cost of Competing funding.”
3) Teacher Contracts and Grievance Procedures: This past fall, the Board adopted a position opposing the elimination of continuing contracts. While the Governor’s proposed plan would not do that, it would allow districts to choose to extend the probationary period for teachers from three to five years. It also proposes changes to the hearings process for teachers, bringing in a “neutral hearing officer” to gather information. Although the details of the proposal are still being worked out, the Board responded: “The FCSB opposes a mandatory increase of the probational period for teacher contracts to more than three years and the increased administrative burden such a change would inflict on school systems. In addition, the Board opposes any changes to the hearings process that do not preserve adequate due process protections for teachers.”
4) Teach for America/Teacher Licensure: This legislation calls for the creation of a two-year provisional teacher license to accommodate teachers from the Teach for America program. There was a pervasive view that the five-week training program offered by TFA would not offer the best preparation for teachers to enter the Fairfax County system. Although the Board did not take a position on TFA itself, it responded: “The FCSB would choose not to employ teachers holding only a Teach for America provisional license.”
5) Individual School Performance Grading System: This legislation creates an A-F rating scale for schools, which would overlay current accountability systems resulting in schools receiving three different ratings: a letter grade, accreditation status, and measure of federal Annual Measurable Objectives, all based on different criteria. The Board responded: “The FCSB opposes the introduction of an A-F grading system to measure school performance. The Board believes that such a system would greatly oversimplify school performance and provide less information about school performance rather than more.”
As we wait for the Governor’s School Safety Task-Force to provide recommendations in the coming weeks, the Board also took positions on guns in schools and school resource officers:
1) Guns in schools: Delegate Bob Marshall has drafted legislation requiring every school board in the Commonwealth to designate at least one qualified person for every school in the district who, upon application with the school board, may carry a concealed handgun on school property. The Board responded: “The FCSB opposes requiring the designation of officials to carry concealed handguns in schools.
2) SROs in schools: There are three varying pieces of legislation requiring school resource officers in every school in Virginia. While some would call for the state to fund the SROs, all are ambiguous on whether the funding associated with the requirement is intended to cover the costs of all SROs, including those already in schools, or only the cost of hiring new SROs. The Board responded: “The FCSB opposes state mandates to place SROs in schools; such personnel decisions should remain with local school boards”.
Again, the Board will be voting to adopt these positions at Thursday night’s School Board Meeting (1/24/2013). Depending on how the General Assembly session and School Safety Task Force progress over the next month, the School Board may take more specific positions.
Ryan McElveen (At-large) is the Fairfax County School Board’s Liaison to the Virginia General Assembly.