AUGUSTA — A bill to require rigorous performance evaluations for school teachers and principals was endorsed unanimously Wednesday by a legislative committee.

The Education and Cultural Affairs Committee had postponed its vote on the bill after more than three hours of discussion Tuesday. Shortly after reconvening on Wednesday, committee members voted 12-0 to send it to the Legislature with their endorsement.

“This is probably one of the most important pieces of legislation that’s happened in some time, and will give us a great tool to begin working through that process to have great, strong evaluation systems,” said Susan Campbell, chairwoman of the Augusta Board of Education and president of the Maine School Boards Association.

The bill, L.D. 1858, would require school districts to have evaluation systems for teachers and principals by 2015-16. All educators would have to be evaluated regularly on things including students’ learning data, and would have to get feedback to help them improve. They would be rated on a four-level scale of effectiveness.

After one “ineffective” rating, a teacher would get an administrator’s help creating a professional improvement plan. A second consecutive “ineffective” rating would be grounds for dismissal.

Supporters of the bill say it would help school districts hire, develop and retain the best teachers.

Maine Education Association President Chris Galgay wouldn’t comment Wednesday, saying the teachers union is having internal conversations about the bill.

Union officials previously said that strong evaluation systems are crucial, but they opposed a provision of the bill that limits the union’s ability to challenge poor ratings or evaluations.

According to the bill, an educator could appeal or file a grievance only for violations of procedure or “bad faith” on the part of the evaluator, not the “professional judgment” in an evaluation.

Maine law does not grant teachers tenure, and they can be dismissed for poor performance.

If L.D. 1858 passes, the Maine Educator Effectiveness Council – including teachers, administrators, school board members, business people and an education professor – will create standards on which school districts will model their evaluation systems.

The council would have to submit its report by Nov. 1. Rep. Richard Wagner, D-Lewiston, said that may not be enough time, and resources to support the proposal may be thin.

“I’ve been involved in ratings and all this sort of stuff at the higher-education level,” said Wagner, a retired Bates College professor. “If it’s going to be done, it’s really got to be done right. If you have the resources to do them, then God bless you, but if not, you’re going to have to find them.”

Developing and using new evaluations will require an investment of time and money, Campbell said. State policy makers can help by providing models for school districts, she said.

The Maine Department of Education would estimate the cost to school districts and incorporate targeted funding into the formula for state aid to education.

That does not mean that the overall state subsidy to school districts would increase.

The bill is the second education-reform proposal by Gov. Paul LePage to be endorsed by the education committee. A bill to give students more access to career and technical education was backed by the committee 10-1 earlier this week.

The committee will hold work sessions on two school choice bills today. One would create open enrollment in Maine, and the other would allow religious schools to receive public funding.

Kennebec Journal Staff Writer Susan McMillan can be contacted at 621-5645 or at:

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