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[UPDATED] Teacher Seniority Bill Falls Short in Committee

The Senate Education committee voted down a bill to allow school districts to determine teacher layoffs based on seniority during a hearing Wednesday.

UPDATED, 5:21 p.m.: The Senate Education Committee voted down a bill drafted by Sen. Bob Huff (R-Diamond Bar) that would have allowed school districts to conduct layoffs based on performance evaluations rather than seniority.

Huff said the rejection of the bill will be tough on districts who are making many layoffs statewide due to looming budget cuts.

“Half of our state’s schools are experiencing declining enrollment. Regardless of this year’s difficult budget, layoffs are being made," Huff said in a press release. "The defeat of SB 355 means incompetent teachers are still given preference to better teachers because of the quality blind approach we currently use.”

The bill, SB 355, was drafted by Huff to eliminate what critics have called the "last in, first out" system of teacher layoffs.

Huff  that the current system can protect ineffective teachers and that the system diverges from standards of private employment.

"You won’t find the luxury of seniority protection in the private sector and we shouldn’t apply such an ineffective policy to an important profession like teaching," he said. "This is a policy that hurts children since they should be given the opportunity to study with the best teacher possible."

The bill comes at a sensitive time for schools, as state budget cuts stand to hit districts and compel layoffs as at Pomona Unified.

The Pomona district originally proposed , but announced at an April meeting that 14 of those positions in child development would be retained. State deadlines mandate that final layoff notices for the next school year are issued by May 15.

Currently, the district must make those layoffs according to seniority.

Tyra Weis, the president of the Associated Pomona Teachers union, said that the policy is the "fairest" for teachers at this time.

"It's a hectic enough time that we've experienced here," Weis said. "It's an emotional enough time, and if you use another factor (to determine layoffs), it pits employees against employees and it makes it very bad working conditions."

Weis said the union and district were currently working on a model of conducting more effective teacher evaluations, based partly on standards from North Carolina, but that evaluations should be a part of regular operations of the district, not at times of layoffs.

Statewide, eyes are on education as the California Teachers Association holds regional rallies to fight against further cuts to the state education budget.

That organization has also voiced opposition to Huff's bill.

Frank Wells, a spokesman for the 325,000-member organization, told Patch in March that the law would replace an objective method of conducting layoffs and replace it with an entirely arbitrary method.

“Layoffs are done for budgetary reasons,” Wells said. “If a teacher isn't performing up to acceptable standards, that problem should have been addressed prior to the sad convenience of a financial crisis."

Nationally, debate over senority-based layoffs has become heated. A PBS NewsHour segment aired Monday explored the issue in Connecticut, where school administrators and teachers are split on how to best conduct layoffs.

The documentary film "Waiting for Superman" also fostered debate over seniority-based layoffs and featured former Washington, D.C. Chancellor of Schools Michelle Rhee, whose organization studentsfirst.org has advocated for the elimination of seniority-based layoffs.

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