A lot of proposed changes have been coming down from the state level to shine more light on how teachers perform in the classroom, and now the attention is on streamlining the discipline process when teachers are underperforming.
"If a teacher is rated ineffective and it takes 15, 16, 17 months to correct the problem, that's not good for kids," said Jack J. Boak, superintendent of the Jefferson-Lewis Board of Cooperative Educational Services.
Late last month, Mr. Boak attended the Senate Education Committee's hearing to examine education law Section 3020-a. There may be a hearing process after a tenured school district employee is charged with incompetence or misconduct. School attorneys and superintendents testified on the process, which allows a hearing officer to review the charges and make recommendations about a possible punishment.
During the Senate hearing, Laura J. Granelli, president of the New York State Association of School Attorneys, said teachers can delay the process and they're almost always paid salary and benefits during the time hearings are going on. And in a hearing process that can last more than a year, the financial burden falls on the school district.
Much of the discussion at the state level focuses on streamlining the process so it goes faster and so the entire cost doesn't fall on the district. Both parties must agree to the hearing panel, and sometimes the back-and-forth about that alone can take months, and it can be difficult to find people who will serve as hearing officers. The amount of time a hearing takes depends on a several factors.
"It depends on the availability of attorneys representing both sides, and certainly the circumstances that lead to a 3020 charge have bearing on how long these things take," Watertown City School District Superintendent Terry N. Fralick said. "And the number of witnesses that need to be deposed — these are key factors, and the process can be very lengthy. There would be significant savings."
There is discussion about setting deadlines to limit the amount of time it takes to choose a hearing panel.
Among the 18 Jefferson-Lewis BOCES component school districts, there may be a few 3020-a hearings each year. There must be a relatively flagrant offense, with consistently poor evaluations and failure to address recommendations made by the supervisor as part of the evaluations and an intervention plan.
There are multiple attempts in districts to intervene before the disciplinary hearing process would be triggered, Mr. Boak said.
An effort to expedite the hearing process comes at a time when a lot of attention statewide has been directed at the way the job performance of educators is evaluated. In July, Chapter 103 Law was implemented, which gives much more weight to student achievement — 40 percent of the educator's evaluation — in an effort to increase teacher effectiveness.
Last month, the Board of Regents adopted regulations, training for teachers and administrators on the new process will begin soon and the new evaluations will be implemented next school year for districts with new bargaining agreements.
"With the Regents reform agenda, there is a focus on teacher performance in the classroom and improving student performance," Mr. Boak said, of how a discipline piece could fit in with the recently instituted annual professional performance review. "This becomes of paramount importance with APPR."