HELENA — Members of the state’s largest teachers’ union are being urged to voice opposition to any law that would eliminate teacher tenure as one lawmaker drafts a bill for the upcoming legislative session that would do just that.
An e-mail sent on Monday by MEA-MFT President Eric Feaver said the board of directors for that organization “has voted unanimously to oppose any and all proposed legislation to repeal Montana teacher tenure in part or in whole.”
Tenure is a method of providing job security after a teacher has completed a probationary period and takes effect in Montana when a teacher accepts a contract “for the fourth consecutive year,” according to Montana law.
The issue has attracted attention in states across the country in recent months, with some Wyoming legislators making news recently for their work on a bill that would end tenure in that state.
Supporters of the tenure system claim it helps to attract and retain highly qualified teachers. Opponents say it makes it difficult to remove bad teachers from classrooms.
Derek Skees, a Republican state representative from Whitefish, said he is drafting a bill that would eliminate tenure completely from grade school through the university system.
“I want to make tenure basically illegal in the state of Montana,” Skees said.
Skees said the idea came from talking with teachers and administrators from his district.
“They’re tired of poor teachers,” Skees said. Some teachers “use it as a tool to keep them from getting fired. The victim in that (scenario) is my child.”
In his e-mail, Feaver defends tenure as “ultimately how school communities recruit and retain quality professional educators for lifetime careers,” and urges members who support tenure to contact their legislators “over and over.”
“We can win the fight I expect us to have if none of us gives an inch. Not an inch,” the e-mail says. “We tell them so and we mean it.”
Skees said he believes the measure has a really strong chance of passing the GOP-controlled House and then would be sent to the Senate for possible action.
Skees said tenure creates a situation where bad teachers are insulated from the consequences of their job performance.
“Any environment that legalizes bad behavior needs to be removed, and I think tenure legalizes bad behavior,” said Skees.
But Feaver said that while the union is opposed to changes to tenure they are “equally uninterested in protecting or defending failed classroom performance” and would work with others to implement measures that could improve performance among struggling teachers.
“Fortunately, all this can be done right now without injury or death to tenure,” the e-mail said.
Skees said the bill is in the process of being written.