Q&A: How will these bills impact me?

Answers to common questions about House Bills 4625-4628.

What do these bills do?

House Bill 4625 amends several sections of tenure law dealing with probationary and tenured teachers. The bill would allow a school board to dismiss a probationary teacher "at any time." Thus, during the first five years of employment, a teacher could be dismissed at any time by the school board. Even worse, a teacher who is returned to probationary status from tenure status could then be let go at any time.

This bill also requires annual performance evaluations with a new ratings system for performance; teachers would need to receive multiple “effective” ratings from their building administrator to earn tenure, or to be granted tenure again.

House Bill 4626 also amends the tenure act to greatly expand the reasons that a teacher could be disciplined or discharged. Notably, tenured teachers could be fired for any reason that is not arbitrary and capricious, a much lower standard that essentially makes all educators “at will” employees. This bill allows schools to suspend teachers for 20 or more consecutive days, reduce their compensation by 40 days’ pay, or to transfer the teacher to a position carrying a lower salary.

House Bill 4627 amends the Revised School Code to make “effectiveness” instead of seniority the determining factor when schools reduce the teaching force and also establishes a “mutual consent policy” for teacher placement. Teachers would be labeled “highly effective,” “effective,” “minimally effective,” or “ineffective” by their administrator.

House Bill 4628 amends the Public Employment Relations Act to specify additional prohibited subjects of bargaining. While media attention on this package has focused on changes to tenure, which are significant, this bill applies to all public schools and greatly limits collective bargaining. Under this bill, all public school employees would be prohibited from negotiating teacher placement, layoff and recall processes, performance evaluation, discipline/discharge policies (teachers only), and merit pay.

What is the current status of these bills?

The Michigan House of Representatives passed the bills June 9; they are pending in the Senate. No committee hearings are currently scheduled.

What is MEA doing to respond to this attack on collective bargaining and tenure?

For weeks, MEA members, leaders, and staff have been working around-the-clock to fight these terrible bills. We’ve met with Republican and Democratic lawmakers, briefed legislative staffers, submitted written testimony opposing the bills, brought members to the Capitol to lobby lawmakers, and much more. In the House, there was little, if any room, for negotiations. We are hopeful that more moderate senators will thoughtfully consider how these bills will impact students and staff in their communities.

Will these bills help students?

Proponents say that helping students is their primary motivation. However, these bills do not ensure that the BEST teachers, bus drivers, or custodians are helping students learn in safe and clean environments. For example, classroom experience matters when it comes to teacher performance and student achievement. So, why should we adopt a system that allows cash-strapped schools to fire experienced teachers in favor of newer teachers who earn lower salaries? How much a teacher makes should not be the reason a teacher is kept, or kicked out.

Could “good teachers” lose their jobs, if these bills become law?

Yes. Losing good teachers would directly impact students.

Could districts target union leaders, unpopular staff members, or outspoken employees and discipline or fire them?

Yes.

Could I be fired for reasons that have nothing to do with job performance?

Yes. Our legal analysis shows that schools could fire teachers for many non-job-related reasons. Because teachers are role models for students, school districts could fire teachers based upon policies that would prohibit teachers from engaging in almost any activity that someone could claim is inconsistent with being a role model. Prior to the Teacher Tenure Act, teachers were fearful of patronizing bars or having alcoholic drinks because someone from the school district might observe them engaging in that activity. Schools could legally attempt to control the after-school activities of teachers, who would be subject to dismissal if they engaged in those activities.

Would other laws protect me from discrimination?

This package of bills allows firings for any reason that is not “arbitrary and capricious.” Basically any reason related to the job meets the standard, even if it is a trivial reason. If a teacher believed that his/her discipline/discharge was a violation of another law, the only recourse for the individual teacher would be to file a lawsuit. In such a lawsuit, the burden would be on the employee to prove the employer violated the law rather than the current system where the burden is on the employer to prove that there is “just cause” to discharge the teacher. Most claims of discrimination by employees in violation of various laws are very hard to prove and employers win most of them.

If these bills become law, and I am displaced, could I bump a less senior coworker?

Not necessarily. You could claim a vacancy or attempt to bump a coworker but your building principal would have absolute discretion in deciding whether you can bump, and would not be required to provide any reason for rejecting you. If your building administrator didn’t agree, you would be placed on unpaid leave.

Would teachers placed on unpaid leave be eligible for unemployment benefits?

No.