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House, Senate disagree on teacher contract bills

The Virginia Education Association, which represents the state’s teachers, can breathe a little easier about legislation to overhaul how teachers are hired and evaluated.

VEA leaders were alarmed Monday when the House voted 55-43 for a bill that would end what critics describe as a tenure system for public school teachers.

Under the bill, sponsored by Delegate Richard “Dickie” Bell, R-Staunton, new teachers and principals would receive three-year contracts instead of continuing contracts – making it easier to fire them.

Bell’s House Bill 576 has been sent to the Senate and assigned to the Senate Education and Health Committee.

But on Tuesday, the Senate killed its version of the legislation, sponsored by Sen. Mark Obenshain, R-Harrisonburg. The vote was 18-20, as all of the Democratic senators opposed the bill and two Republican senators declined to vote.

The defeat of Senate Bill 438 bodes poorly for HB 576. That’s something of a relief to VEA President Kitty Boitnott.

Boitnott called the legislation “a huge, huge mistake.” Virginia teachers feel under attack, and some are considering leaving the state to pursue their teaching careers elsewhere, she said.

“We won’t be able to replace them,” Boitnott said. Instead of punishing teachers, she said, the most effective K-12 education reforms would be systemic and would focus on raising salaries to attract and retain high-quality teachers.

The association has announced Friday as a “VEA Day of Mourning” or “Black Friday.” The group is encouraging teachers to wear black “to illustrate your collective mourning over the attack that has been launched against Virginia’s teachers and students by legislators with open disrespect and disdain.”

As originally written, HB 576 would have put teachers on one-year contracts. The bill was amended to provide for three-year contracts – after the teacher or principal has served a probationary five-year term.

Also under the legislation, school boards would adopt an evaluation process based on state guidelines, and student academic success would account for 40 percent of the evaluation.

“If we had this when I was teaching, I would’ve embraced it,” said Bell, a retired teacher.

During Monday’s debate, Delegate Kirkland Cox, R-Colonial Heights, a high school government teacher, urged his colleagues to approve HB 576.
“This is one I really want to emphasize for the children,” said Cox, the majority leader in the House. “We’re kidding ourselves if we think mediocre teachers aren’t bad teachers.”

Boitnott said the idea of a bad teacher is too subjective.

“Everybody can probably think of at least one teacher that they had over the course of their career that they didn’t think was as effective as they could’ve been or perhaps should’ve been, (but) that same teacher may have made a huge difference for another child,” Boitnott said.

The bill would provide money for training principals to effectively and fairly evaluate teachers. Bell said this is a way to address the VEA’s concerns.

Cox said the bill was just one example of the reforms needed in K-12 education.

“We are naive if we think public education is perfect. We can make K-12 better by passing this bill,” he said.

Cox’s enthusiasm was also met with doubt by House Democrats.

Kenneth Plum and Kaye Kory, Democratic delegates from Fairfax, both favored giving more responsibility to local governments and school boards to determine contract and evaluation terms.

Gov. Bob McDonnell endorsed Bell’s proposal, but Plum reminded the House that McDonnell also has emphasized the importance of local governments throughout the session.

“We should be supporting local governments, not micro-managing from Richmond with the idea being that we’ve been to school, so we know best,” Plum said.

Kory agreed. She also expressed concern about the future of teachers in the state.

“This is not the way to attract good teachers,” she said. “This is a way to drive them out of Virginia.”

Democrats also questioned whether it is necessary to overhaul the rules governing teacher contracts and evaluations.

Delegate Jeion Ward, D-Hampton, serves as president of the Hampton Federation of Teachers. She said there are processes in place to help and replace poorly performing teachers.

“It is very easy to get rid of a bad teacher,” Ward said.

Boitnott agreed that administrators “already had the tools and resources to remove a teacher, and shame on them if they didn’t do it. That’s a broken administration system. That’s not on the VEA; that’s not on teachers. That’s on a system that hasn’t been properly implemented.”

After the measure passed, McDonnell issued a statement to thank Bell for carrying the bill. The governor said the measure is important for Virginia’s students.
“This legislation will recognize our teachers for their success; provide teachers and administrators with benchmarking and performance measures; and, in the end, yield better results for our students,” McDonnell stated.

“I am pleased that the House of Delegates recognizes the importance of this legislation that will ensure our students have access a world-class education taught by Virginia’s best teachers.”

How they voted
Here is how the House voted Monday on “HB 576 Public schools; teacher contract and evaluation policies.”
Floor: 02/13/12 House: VOTE: PASSAGE (55-Y 43-N)
YEAS – Albo, Bell, Richard P., Bell, Robert B., Byron, Cline, Cole, Comstock, Cosgrove, Cox, J.A., Cox, M.K., Dudenhefer, Fariss, Farrell, Garrett, Gilbert, Greason, Habeeb, Head, Helsel, Hodges, Iaquinto, Ingram, Joannou, Jones, Knight, Landes, LeMunyon, Lingamfelter, Loupassi, Marshall, D.W., Marshall, R.G., Massie, May, Merricks, Minchew, Morris, O’Bannon, Peace, Pogge, Poindexter, Putney, Ramadan, Ransone, Robinson, Scott, E.T., Sherwood, Stolle, Tata, Villanueva, Watson, Webert, Wilt, Wright, Yancey, Mr. Speaker – 55.
NAYS – Alexander, BaCote, Brink, Bulova, Carr, Crockett-Stark, Dance, Edmunds, Englin, Filler-Corn, Herring, Hope, Howell, A.T., Hugo, James, Johnson, Keam, Kilgore, Kory, Lewis, Lopez, McClellan, McQuinn, Miller, Morefield, Morrissey, O’Quinn, Orrock, Plum, Rush, Rust, Scott, J.M., Sickles, Spruill, Surovell, Torian, Toscano, Tyler, Ward, Ware, O., Ware, R.L., Watts, Yost – 43.
NOT VOTING – Anderson, Purkey – 2.
Delegate Helsel was recorded as yea. Intended to vote nay.
Delegate Anderson was recorded as not voting. Intended to vote nay.

Here is how the Senate voted Tuesday on “SB 438 Public schools; teacher contract and evaluation policies.”
Floor: 02/14/12 Senate: Defeated by Senate (18-Y 20-N)
YEAS – Black, Blevins, Carrico, Garrett, Hanger, Martin, McDougle, McWaters, Newman, Obenshain, Reeves, Ruff, Smith, Stanley, Stosch, Stuart, Vogel, Wagner – 18.
NAYS – Barker, Colgan, Deeds, Ebbin, Edwards, Favola, Herring, Howell, Locke, Lucas, Marsden, Marsh, McEachin, Miller, J.C., Miller, Y.B., Northam, Petersen, Puckett, Puller, Saslaw – 20.
NOT VOTING – Norment, Watkins – 2.


Community

Agencies combine on new entry point to Chickahominy


Canoeing and kayaking enthusiasts soon will have a new access point to the Chickahominy River. VDOT, the James River Association and Henrico County Parks and Recreation are teaming up to establish a new site in Eastern Henrico.

The James River Association negotiated the deal with VDOT to procure official access to the area located just east of I-295 on North Airport Road in Sandston. The site includes a park-and-ride commuter lot bordering the Chickahominy River and has been an unofficial launch site used by paddlers for years. > Read more.

Equestrian clinic planned July 7-8 in Henrico

Henrico equestrians interested in deepening the bond between themselves and their horses have the opportunity to attend a two day clinic, held at Steppin’ High Stables on July 7-8 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. The clinic, “Become Partners with your Horse,” will be taught by multiple world champion equestrienne Terry Preiser and will focus on how riders and horses can work together to achieve more. > Read more.

Henrico school bus driver honored

The Henrico-based Hephaestus Society recently awarded its first annual community heroes award (the Hephaestus Award) to Hicham Elgharouch (pictured, center) for what it termed his "selfless acts of caring" in his duties as a Henrico County Public Schools bus driver. Henrico County Director of Pupil Transportation Josh Davis, joined Hephaestus Society President Travis Gardner, in presenting the award and an accompanying $1,500 check to Elgharouch last month.

Elgharouch was selected for his clear and demonstrated patience and for his infectious positive attitude, according to the society. > Read more.

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Entertainment

Weekend Top 10


Grab the kids and check out these fun family-friendly events taking place this weekend! Speed over to the Henrico Theatre for the film “Turbo” or watch “Dumbo” under the stars at Clarke-Palmore House Museum. Little ones can meet Thomas the Tank Engine at CMOR-Central or play at the Eastern Henrico Recreation Center. For all our top picks this weekend, click here! > Read more.

Weekend Top 10


Don’t party too hard on the Fourth because a whole weekend of fun events await! Enjoy a classy date night without the kids at James River Cellars Winery’s second annual Smoke and Vine Festival. Another date night option is at the Richmond Funny Bone, where comedian April Macie will perform all weekend. The kids have their own options this weekend as well. Choose from storytime at Tuckahoe and Twin Hickory libraries or family-oriented karaoke at Aunt Sarah’s Pancake House – I hear they have hits from Disney’s “Frozen.” For all our top picks this weekend, click here! > Read more.

Restaurant watch

Find out how your favorite dining establishments fared during their most recent inspections by the Virginia Department of Health. > Read more.

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