Pr. George's county executive seeks changes to dealing with ineffective teachers

By Daniel Valentine
The Gazette
Thursday, March 10, 2011

Prince George's County Executive Rushern L. Baker III said he hopes to make it easier for county public school officials to fire ineffective teachers.

"We have to look at ways we can aggressively remove teachers who aren't doing a good job from the classrooms," Baker (D) said during an editorial board meeting Feb. 17 with reporters and editors of The Gazette.

One of the biggest hurdles so far in Baker's tenure as county executive is finding ways to prevent $155 million in cuts to balance the school system's proposed $1.69 billion budget for fiscal 2012. While he is searching for potential county government cuts to get more money for the system, he also is in talks with Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. to make changes to ensure the funds are properly used, Baker said.

Hite could not be reached for comment.

"In this budget crisis, I'm willing to find the resources to help you," Baker said of the school system. "But if I'm giving you extra dollars, I need to know that, one, the program is effective, and, two, that you're doing something with problem teachers."

Baker's calls for changing the county's teacher evaluation and retention system adds another dimension to an ongoing debate regarding how to evaluate and retain educators in Prince George's, which teachers might not welcome.

"Those are all aspects of negotiations [with the county school board]," said Lewis A. Robinson, executive director of the Prince George's County Educators' Association, the union for teachers. "And the county executive is not a part of those negotiations."

The contract between the teachers and the school system expired last year. The two sides are trying to resolve wage and benefit issues, as well as to devise a plan to implement new, performance-based methods to determine how effective teachers are in the classroom.

"Unfortunately, this just sounds like more of the teacher bashing that my members have had to endure in the past couple of years," Robinson said of Baker's suggestions. "Are teachers to blame for the millions of dollars lost in the budget over the past few years, for all the program cuts, for declining enrollment, for the wealth of talent that has left this district to join other schools systems around the region? The answer is no."

Performance-based evaluations are a key requirement that all counties must adopt in the next year to qualify for federal education money, through the Race to the Top program. Prince George's still is trying to meet those expectations.

Although first-year and recently-hired teachers can be dismissed within one year, it now takes as long as four years to remove a tenured teacher in Prince George's under the county's policies.

Teachers earn tenure after about three years on the job, in which they are frequently observed and evaluated. Tenured teachers who receive an "unsatisfactory" rating in their annual evaluation receive two years of intensified observation and training to improve and another two-year probation period without a pay increase to show improvement before they are fired.

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