One step forward, one step back. That’s the way Tuesday went for Board of Education policies and state legislation regarding performance evaluations.

The House decision to recommit Senate Bill 2789 effectively killed the legislative plan to require the Department of Education to implement a comprehensive evaluation system for teachers and principals. The Senate will hear the companion measure, House Bill 2527, on Thursday but a similar fate is anticipated there.

Senate Education Committee Chair Jill Tokuda said if there weren’t enough votes in the House to pass SB2789, her colleagues would likely recommit HB2527.

“While this may be the end of the road for these bills … I don’t think we’ve seen the end to a performance management system that has some component of student growth in it,” she said. “In the end, my concern was who was really speaking up for those students in the classroom? It’s very disappointing. We put a lot of work into this.”

The bill’s demise comes two weeks after federal education officials visited Hawaii to check on the state’s Race to the Top progress. Gov. Neil Abercrombie and others pushing for the legislation and policies have emphasized the federal money that’s at stake.

The governor notes the need for performance evaluations is linked to the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act State Fiscal Stabilization Funds, for which Hawaii has received $192 million, and securing the additional $74 million in funding for Race to the Top.

Meanwhile, the Board of Education’s Human Resources Committee passed three policies that could accomplish the same goal. They will be up for final approval Tuesday.

“We are committed to move forward with an evaluation process that accurately reflects the performance of our employees and is based upon a mutually agreed set of professional and student growth objectives as well as mutual trust,” BOE Chair Don Horner said in an emailed statement Tuesday. “We have outstanding educators and a fair, consistent and effective evaluation system is critical to ensure their professionalism is recognized, encouraged and rewarded.”

Abercrombie was tweeting about the legislation Tuesday, but to no avail. He steered readers to a FAQ page on his website. He said the two bills would give the BOE the “directive, means, and flexibility to establish a performance management system that includes an evaluation of teachers and educational officers.”

The Hawaii State Teachers Association celebrated SB2789’s defeat and urged teachers to keep the pressure on lawmakers to kill HB2527.

“The bill would have infringed upon teachers’ collective bargaining rights by legislating that teacher compensation be tied to performance evaluation,” HSTA President Wil Okabe wrote in a post on the union’s Facebook page after the unanimous vote. “This is a tremendous win for teachers, students and all the people of Hawaii. This sends a clear message that collective bargaining is alive and well in Hawaii, and fundamental issues that affect the livelihood of teachers should be addressed at the bargaining table.”

Abercrombie maintains that the bills do not infringe on collective bargaining. He points at HRS 89-9 and says the purpose of the bill is to “specify the nature and scope of teacher evaluations and make clear the standards, including student performance, by which teachers will be evaluated.”

The governor also notes on his website that “any ‘impact on personnel,’ such as a step increase or bonus, must be collectively bargained.”

Non-Tenured Teachers Can Protest Firings

As far as action went at the education board level, teachers on probation will have the same rights to fight their firing as tenured educators under a policy that passed the Human Resources Committee.

Among the amendments to the policies made at the special meeting this week and the committee’s regular meeting last Tuesday is a significant change to the definition of “probation.”

Board Policy 5100 had defined the term in a way that could have limited a non-tenured teacher’s ability to contest being terminated. After hearing concerns from union members and others, the committee voted to delete the controversial paragraph.

The policy now gives teachers with or without tenure status clear recourse to the grievance procedure outlined in the bargaining agreement.

The board policy, like SB2789, also increases the probationary period from two years to three. The union has submitted testimony against this aspect of the legislation too.

Human Resources Chair Jim Williams was careful to stress that the board recognizes the unions’ rights to bargain certain aspects related to pay. However, in some areas, he pointed out that the board is doing so even though it doesn’t have to by law.

In addressing the question of “negotiability,” he explained there are three categories: mandatory, prohibited and permissive. He said evaluations and pay for performance fall into the last category, which historically both sides have agreed should be bargained.

“The point is the board and certainly the DOE … are well aware of our responsibilities,” Williams said.

He reiterated that the policies set the direction for the DOE, and the superintendent would need to handle any provisions or processes that fail to comply.

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