The battle over the reform of West Virginia’s public schools did not end with Governor Tomblin’s signature on Senate Bill 359 on April 10th. The ongoing disputes between the education unions and state Board of Education reformers continued, albeit quietly until now, over the specific rules of how key provisions of the law will be executed.
One of the biggest disagreements has been over a rule adopted Thursday by the Board that’s designed to avoid grievances in the hiring process. Going forward, designated teachers will help the school principal and the county superintendent make decisions about hiring. The state Board wanted to protect those teachers from being hit with a grievance filed by another teacher upset because he/she didn’t get the job.
Initially, the Board proposed a rule stating, “This will allow teachers to be meaningfully involved in the hiring recommendation process in an open and honest manner without fear of reprisal, retaliation or coercion and will minimize lost instructional time and classroom disruption.”
That rule, as it was proposed, made sense. The education reform law aims to, among many other things, eliminate the current seniority-based hiring process and empower school leaders to hire the most qualified person. Those doing the hiring will review the qualifications of the applicants, including seniority, but the new process also allows for some subjectivity.
However, the leaders of the two teacher unions worried that the subjectivity could run amok, contributing to unfair hiring practices. And, under the rule as it was proposed, a passed over applicant would not be able to file a grievance against the faculty members who did the hiring.
House of Delegates member Barbara Evans Fleischauer (D-Monongalia) also publicly questioned the proposed hiring rule. She argued on Talkline Thursday that it would deny an employee’s right to file a grievance. It was a legitimate legal question. The state code provides generally broad guidelines for an employee to file a formal complaint about a workplace issue.
By the end of the day yesterday, the Board had backed down. Lloyd Jackson, who has done much of the heavy lifting for the Board on education reform, told union leaders that the hiring rule would be altered to allow grievances. The rule language now says that the hiring process is simply “designed to avoid litigation or grievance.”
So we’ll see how this shakes out. One important attribute of the new hiring practices is that it takes those who know best what’s needed in the classroom–the teachers–and gives them the authority to make important decisions about who is best qualified to join their ranks.
However, that significant empowerment of teachers will be undermined if the hiring rules, as they have now been adopted, trigger endless grievances and litigation.