AUGUSTA — A bill mandating performance evaluations for educators could go to a vote in the Education and Cultural Affairs Committee today.

The Department of Education has offered amendments to ensure teacher input into new state regulations and to provide more protection to teachers and principals who receive poor ratings.

Concerns remain, however, about the proposal’s cost to the state and to school districts. Legislators and education representatives alike noted that schools are being asked to do more at a time when most school districts are cutting staff and funding for professional development.

A fiscal note attached to the bill says local costs cannot be determined, but it would have “significant, statewide” impact.

The education committee tabled the bill, L.D. 1858, after more than three hours of discussion at a work session on Tuesday.

The Department of Education recommended writing a Maine educator effectiveness council into the bill. It previously had been part of the plan department staff are preparing to apply for a waiver of some requirements of No Child Left Behind, Maine Education Commissioner Stephen Bowen said.

The council would include Bowen or his designee; a member of the State Board of Education; a total of eight teachers, administrators and local school board members, chosen by Bowen from lists submitted by their associations; a faculty member from a Maine teacher’s college; two businesspeople; and two members of the general public.

The council would develop standards for evaluations and make recommendations concerning the measures of effectiveness an evaluation system might use, which must include student learning data; methods for gathering evidence in evaluations; training procedures; and development of plans to help teachers and principals address their shortcomings.

The rules proposed by the council would be subject to legislative approval next year. School districts would be required to craft their own evaluation and improvement systems around those standards and submit them to the Department of Education for approval.

The bill calls for a full implementation of the evaluation systems by the 2015-16 school year.

The department also recommended an amendment to the provision of the bill that attracted the most controversy during a public hearing last week. The section limits the ability of educators to challenge an unfavorable evaluation.

Administrators must work with teachers or principals deemed “ineffective” to develop a professional improvement plan, but a second consecutive “ineffective” rating is grounds for dismissal under the bill.

Several teachers recalled working with vindictive principals or superintendents and said L.D. 1858 would give administrators too much power to get rid of subordinates they don’t like.

In the new language, “bad faith” on the part of the evaluator would join violations of evaluation procedures as a reason a teacher or principal could appeal or file a grievance to a poor evaluation or rating.

Bowen said “bad faith” was added to address a valid concern from teachers.

“They could foresee someone going through the whole process as it’s laid out, and dotting all the i’s and crossing all the t’s and doing all the things they’re supposed to do, but still have that outcome be fraudulent,” Bowen said. “They’ve fabricated data, or they’ve chosen the period that they know is the worst period of the day, or whatever.”

Maine Education Association President Chris Galgay said in an interview that the bill still strips educators of their due process rights because a well-meaning evaluator could write an inaccurate evaluation because of poor training or ignorance of a teacher’s subject matter.

Galgay said he doesn’t know how school districts will find the resources to develop comprehensive evaluation systems, train administrators and then give them enough time to conduct thorough classroom evaluations.

“We have less educators every year, and that means less administrators,” Galgay said. “They’re being asked to do more with less, so it seems like another mandate down from the state that could be very difficult to do.”

Several committee members and Paul Stearns, president-elect of Maine School Superintendents Association and superintendent of Guilford-based Regional School Unit 80, also expressed concern about the time and money available for evaluations.

Stearns said RSU 80 has implemented a new, more comprehensive evaluation system in recent years, but the state keeps piling on requirements. Recent proposals, for example, give principals more duties relating to truancy and cyber bullying, Stearns said.

“Let’s look at all those laws and then say, at the end of the day, how much time did that principal have to go into those classrooms and really engage in a meaningful evaluation of the teachers?” Stearns said.

“Let’s not overlook the principals,” he added. “They need a fair evaluation system as well. But to do this right is going to cost money, and it’s money for people, for time, to be able to do it right.”

Bowen said state officials will look at districts, like RSU 80, that are implementing evaluations, to get a sense for local costs, then incorporate that into the state funding formula. But no one knows if the next biennial budget will increase the overall subsidy to schools to account for the additional expenses.

Susan McMillan — 621-5645

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