The Jefferson Parish School Board is using a court ruling in California as a springboard to ask state lawmakers to support a constitutional amendment that would allow the school district to use performance, rather than seniority, when deciding which teachers to lay off.
The measure, which calls for a constitutional right to an effective teacher, drew accusations of election-year politics even as the board approved it by a wide majority.
Sponsored by board member Mike Delesdernier, the resolution is centered around a lawsuit brought by the Jefferson Federation of Teachers that successfully argued the school district violated state law in 2012 when it laid off more than 50 teachers whose performance was deemed “ineffective” while keeping less senior colleagues on the job.
But the measure also draws from a recent court ruling in California that found the state’s teacher tenure laws were unconstitutional. In that ruling, a judge argued that teachers who performed poorly were more likely to work in low-income schools. By making it difficult to fire them, the tenure system was denying the students an equal education, the judge found.
The resolution makes it clear that the proposed Louisiana constitutional amendment would be designed to allow ineffective teachers to be laid off more easily.
“Someone in the United States who has the legal authority has finally, vocally in a legal courtroom, in a written opinion about a ruling of a case, done something to support the constitutional rights of children,” board member Mark Jacobs said about the California judge’s decision. “And to me that’s huge not only as a parent, not only as a citizen, but as a School Board member.”
But board member Cedric Floyd argued the resolution was nothing more than grandstanding by Delesdernier. He said the district should not have violated the law in laying off teachers.
“This is the most inept, lawbreaking school board I’ve ever seen, to take credit for test scores they don’t know anything about,” Floyd said.
Jefferson Federation of Teachers President Meladie Munch called the resolution a political maneuver in a year in which many members of the business-backed majority on the board face challengers.
“It appears to me that this is nothing more than a campaign tactic by the author,” said Munch, who is running against board member Larry Dale in the November election.
That drew a reproach from board President Mark Morgan, who admonished his colleagues and members of the audience not to discuss or make accusations about the upcoming elections during meetings.
Six board members voted in favor of the resolution. Floyd voted against it, while Ray St. Pierre abstained.
Follow Jeff Adelson on Twitter, @jadelson.