By Maura Pennington | Watchdog.org
PHILADELPHIA — With school districts like Philadelphia facing critical budget deficits, Pennsylvania lawmakers could make an effort to loosen teacher furlough policies.
Current regulations allow furloughs based on student population drops, school consolidation or program elimination, but districts are limited in their ability to suspend employees due to economic necessity.
“School districts are asking for flexibility in making furlough decisions,” said Rep. Ryan Aument, R-Lancaster.
Aument is the author of H.B. 1735, one of three bills introduced in the state House of Representatives during the current legislative session. All three will be the subject of a House Education Committee hearing Tuesday. The main sponsors of the individual bills are in the unique position of co-sponsoring each other’s legislation, creating a uniform push on the issue.
Rep. Seth Grove, R-York, took up the matter after learning the Teacher of the Year in New Jersey was furloughed because state law there requires furloughs to be based on seniority, meaning even the state’s best teachers could be lost if they are younger than some of their colleagues.
“I looked at the Pennsylvania law and saw that it could just as easily happen here,” Grove said.
His bill, H.B. 779, modifies the protocol for furloughs, tying the decision to teacher effectiveness instead of seniority.
Grove said the implementation of a statewide series of educator effectiveness guidelines in 2012 has provided an opportunity to revisit the Public School Code’s furlough policy, which has proven problematic for districts weighed down by personnel costs.
Data from the new educator evaluation criteria will simplify furlough decisions by making it clearer who is having the greatest positive results in the classroom.
“It takes away the argument that it’s arbitrary,” Grove said.
“We should be focusing education policy on students and achievement,” Aument said. “If there needs to be an economic furlough, we can all agree that it is in the best interest of students to protect our most effective educators.”
The Pennsylvania State Education Association declined to comment, but will be testifying at the hearing and has opposed previous efforts to allow furloughs based on anything but seniority.
By contrast, the Pennsylvania School Board Association supports the move to permit school districts to furlough for economic reasons.
“Allowing economic furlough gives a better management tool for districts to handle their budgets,” said Steve Robinson, senior director of communications at PSBA.
Contact Maura Pennington at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her on Twitter @whatsthefracas.
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