AUGUSTA — A legislative committee could vote today on a bill that would mandate performance evaluations for educators.

The Department of Education has offered amendments to the bill to ensure teachers’ input into new state regulations, and to give more protection to teachers and principals who get poor ratings.

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

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

The Education and Cultural Affairs Committee tabled the bill, L.D. 1858, after more than three hours of discussion Tuesday. Its recommendation will go to the full Legislature.

The Department of Education recommended forming an educator effectiveness council as part of the bill. The council would include Education Commissioner Stephen 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 business people; and two members of the public.

The council would develop standards for evaluations and recommend measures of effectiveness that an evaluation system might use.

The rules recommended by the council would be subject to legislative approval next year. School districts would have 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 full implementation of the systems by the 2015-16 school year.

The department also recommended changing the provision of the bill that was most controversial during a public hearing last week. The section limits the ability of educators to challenge unfavorable evaluations.

Administrators would have to work with teachers or principals who are deemed “ineffective” to develop professional improvement plans, but a second consecutive “ineffective” rating would be 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.

Under the amendment, “bad faith” on the part of the evaluator would be a reason for a teacher or principal to appeal or file a grievance after a poor evaluation or rating.

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

Maine Education Association President Chris Galgay said in an interview that the bill still would strip 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 would find the resources to develop comprehensive evaluation systems, train administrators and give them enough time to do thorough classroom evaluations.

Several committee members and Paul Stearns, president-elect of the 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 used a new, more comprehensive evaluation system in recent years, but the state keeps piling on requirements. Recent proposals, for example, give principals more duties related to truancy and cyber bullying, Stearns said.

Bowen said state officials will look at districts that are using evaluations, to get a sense of the costs, then incorporate that information into the state funding formula. But no one knows if the state’s next biennial budget will increase the overall aid to schools to account for the additional expense.

 

Kennebec Journal Staff Writer Susan McMillan can be contacted at 621-5645 or at: [email protected]