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Most readers oppose N.Y. tenure system

Rochester Business Journal
August 8, 2014

More than 85 percent of RBJ Daily Report Snap Poll respondents oppose New York’s tenure and seniority protections for teachers.

The battle over teacher tenure moved to New York last month. In a pair of lawsuits, parents backed by advocacy groups challenged the state’s tenure and seniority protections for teachers, arguing that these are the product of outdated laws that effectively deny students’ constitutional right to a sound basic education.

The New York suits were filed in the wake of a June decision in which a California judge struck down that state’s laws on tenure and seniority. Among the plaintiffs in the latest New York case, filed last week, are parents of two Rochester schoolchildren.

The plaintiffs argue that New York’s education system protects “ineffective teachers well above what due process requires and at the direct expense of their students’ constitutional rights. … Cumulatively, these laws make it nearly impossible to dismiss and discipline teachers with a proven track record of ineffectiveness or misconduct.”

School districts statewide typically grant tenure to new teachers after a three-year probationary period and after only two years of performance review, which “is inadequate to assess whether a teacher has earned the lifelong benefits of tenure,” the suit maintains.

In addition, the plaintiffs contend that under New York’s “LIFO (“Last In First Out) Statute,” school districts conducting layoffs for economic reasons “must fire junior, high-performing teachers (while) senior, low-performing and more highly paid teachers continue to provide poor instruction to their students.”

In response, New York State United Teachers president Karen Magee described the suit as “a politically motivated attack against every dedicated teacher in New York.” She said tenure “ensures that teachers have the freedom to teach effectively and the liberty to oppose policies or cuts that harm students,” adding that the seniority system “guards against abuses by those who would use ‘layoffs’ as another way to terminate those who advocate too fiercely, are older or are at the top of the pay scale.”

Roughly 875 readers participated in this week’s poll, conducted Aug. 4 and 5.

Do you support or oppose New York’s tenure and seniority protections for teachers?

Support:  14%
Oppose:  86%

Tenure and seniority protections are designed to protect bad teachers and the low performers. Just ask yourself … if you believe you are a good teacher and your heart is truly for the students, why do you need laws to protect your job? Imagine any business whose management is hamstrung to eliminate or replace poor performers in the workforce; it will not survive. History has proven this.
—Patrick Ho

In other words, should there be a guarantee on someone’s job? That is what tenure provides. No job should be guaranteed.
—Cathy Ames, Fairport

Teachers need to be measured and evaluated like the rest of the world. No one in industry gets protection, not the CEO or the pro football player. Enough coddling. Our public schools are ineffective because bad teachers can’t be rooted out and replaced when needed. The union only has the teachers’ best interests—not the students nor the taxpayers.
—David Wolf, Just Solutions

Let’s be honest about reality here. We do not have a rampant problem with ineffective teachers. We do have a problem with student behavior and motivation, and much of the student and parent ire directed toward teachers is in retribution for teachers that have the audacity to enforce standards. Much of the political ire directed toward teachers is the result of anti-union politicians. If teachers were not so vilified and the issue so politicized, we would not need extraordinary protection for teachers’ jobs. However, the cold hard reality is that protections are needed.
—DeWain Feller

Five of my children attended RCSD schools, and one of my grandchildren is now in a city charter school. The evidence is clear. Although there are excellent teachers throughout the district, there are far too many unqualified teachers who have somehow acquired tenure and are, thereby, beyond the benefits of remediation. Until the RCSD successfully turns around its increasingly abysmal service to our children and our community, we must be willing to experiment with any reasonable reform suggestions: more charter schools, early retirement packages for ineffective teachers, mayoral control, even vouchers. If the political will existed for metropolitan schools in Monroe County, that might solve the problem, but in the meantime, something radical must be done. We should be willing to look at anything at this point.
—Ken Maher

Tenure is an outdated and unneeded system. Those in favor say it protects experienced and senior teachers from being fired by school boards looking to save money. I have far more faith in school boards’ dedication to making sure our children are educated than the union, which seems only interested in protecting teachers, not children.
—Alan Ziegler, Rochester Area Business Ethics Foundation

I oppose the current tenure system, but I am not in favor of totally discarding it, either. Management is notorious for abusing their employees’ rights, and add a “school board” to the mix and you can envision some school district employee losing his/her due process rights to an overzealous superintendent. As with many things in life, probably the solution lies somewhere between total dissolution and no protection for teachers at all.
—Peter Bonenfant

Join the world of “other professionals”: Salaried professionals never have their day defined in minutes of face time with their clients. Professionals advance based on merit, hard work and talent beyond that of their peers. Non-performers are never protected from getting passed by higher performers. Current New York State tenure rules are absurd; the union demands like intransigent steelworkers, not someone who “loves the kids.”
—Edward Butcher

Yes, I do (support tenure). Teachers spend years in college to meet the educational requirements to teach. They must also teach at a high level for a number of years in order to achieve tenure. The job security that tenure brings is the reward for their hard work.
—Lou Ann Owens

There comes a time in everyone’s life when our enthusiasm, mental and physical abilities begin to wane. That is the time to man up and leave gracefully. Tenure should not guarantee you a job as long as you live.
—Dick Weldgen, Dramatic Landscape Lighting

While I support tenure for our teachers, it needs to be coupled to some performance measures. Some minimum qualifications need to be put in place, to ensure that we are granting tenure to quality teaching professionals.
—Hutch Hutchison, In T’Hutch Ltd.

Support defined seniority protections so that “veterans” do not get taken advantage of when younger people will work for less money. Do not support tenure. Talent and results are the ultimate job protection.
—Jay Birnbaum

There is no need for intellectual protection at the high school level. All tenure does is keep bad teachers teaching and good teachers demotivated by having to work with incompetent teachers.
—Fred Dewey, Victor

In simplest terms, the problem is not with the teachers.
—Paul McCarthy

Even in the most staunch union, there is a process to remove ineffective workers, except the teacher’s union! That process is so arduous that it is never pursued. I heard a group of the worst teachers in New York City sit in a room all day doing nothing but getting a paycheck. How awful and shameful.
—Rich Mileo

There are no guarantees in life. Business has learned to shift focus as needed in order to stay competitive. The educational system needs to follow this lead. “Seniority” recognition can be a positive force in any workplace, but it can also lead to inefficiencies that deter change. Is that what we want to teach our children?
—Nancy May, APPC

Any process that rewards high-performing teachers and removes low-performing teachers is preferable to a system that protects poor performers and ultimately provides a weak education and a high cost. In the future, we will need more engineers and scientists to remain competitive. This is our choice to make this happen; voting for expensive school budgets is not working.
—Steven Newell

Why would we continue to reward ineffective teachers? Our children deserve the best.
—T. Baker, Henrietta

Today, New York spends more than $100 million per year to pay teachers who have been judged unfit to teach. Instead of going to work in schools, they go to separate buildings where they read, play cards, surf the Internet or solve crosswords. They still get paid because of tenure granted them under New York’s policies. The taxpayers should not be supporting these so-called teachers or the programs that have created this result.
—John Calia, Vistage International

In the private sector in New York State, the rule is “at will” employment. Workers can be dismissed for any reason other than race, creed, color, sex and religion. Teachers in New York State, relatively speaking, get an incredible deal through their union with tenure after only three years. I’m for equality of both the public and the private sectors. No tenure in either the public or private sectors.
—Clifford Jacobson M.D.

Absolutely not. If you or I goofed up at work and it was grounds for getting fired, we’d be out of a job. The same should apply for a teacher and anyone else for that matter. Period.
—Jason Sumner, Rochester

Totally oppose tenure. I work in business. I never have had tenure; why should teachers? If I do a lousy job, I get passed over for promotion and may lose my job. I love the quote about how this is about layoffs for those who “advocate too fiercely.” What exactly are these bad teachers “advocating” for? More liberal policies? More unions? Good grief, Karen Magee. You may have put your finger on the problem.
—Michael Higgins, Rochester

I support these protections for (good teachers). Education of our children is a top priority for our nation and we need to retain experienced and new teachers. However, we can require teacher re-certification every three to five years. Teacher competence cannot be based on student testing performance. Student proficiency on tests is verification that the student has comprehended the required materials, and that the student's family has encouraged study and learning. In other words teachers and students should both be certified by testing. Now, the difference is that teachers commit years to their education and to their careers. This commitment should be protected. Small modifications to tenure security programs can assure that good teachers are not the victims of political opinion or taxpayer rage about the levels of funding needed to educate our children.
—Wayne Donner, Rush

We have access to a great pool of teachers now, but are we ready for the pool to diminish and dry up? This will happen if protections decrease and the ability to teach in a unique and effective manner is taken away. Continue to attack and blame teachers for all the problems in the schools and education system and see what kind of talent pool we have in 10 years. Advocate for the right match in regard to teacher(s) and child. Don't be afraid to ask more from your teachers and hopefully the teachers won't be afraid to ask more from the community and parents.
—Keith Newcomer, Brighton

Teachers like everyone else should be held accountable for their job results. Automatic tenure only invites lackluster results. With the education system in crisis, and therefore the future of country in the same boat, it's a moot point whether teachers should have to prove their worth to the institution.
—Marion Oyer, Bags Unlimited Inc.

Why are public sector employees privy to more protections that their private sector counterparts? Why are public sector employee retirement packages protected against loss when their private sector counterparts are not? Public sector unions are a giant conflict of interest. There are no 'labor-management' negotiations, politicians increase public sector employee benefits in exchange for votes. The fact that the question of tenure protections is even being asked is an insult to the average working American. We already know we need to perform to keep our jobs and to progress in our professions. Thank you for another slap in the face New York; may I have another?
—Steve Wichtowski, Honeoye

Many years ago, before most of you can remember, teachers were underpaid and overworked. Tenure was a way to reward them for their career of sacrifice for the well-being of students like me. If we gave a teacher a hard time, our parents corrected the situation. Now, teachers have gotten tenure, receive relatively much higher wages, greater benefits than the private sector employees, and never have to worry about losing a job they may have grown to hate because they now also raise the kids that many of today's parents have failed to properly raise. Under these conditions, I cannot support tenure as it is a disincentive for quality performance. The plaintiffs in the lawsuit see their children suffering because a significant portion of their peers have failed in their duties as parents. This issue is just a single symptom in our crumbling society's mess of today. Regardless of how this is settled, failure to address the disease will prove tenure or no tenure will only help drive our society and culture one step closer to the sewer of history.
—Bill Lanigan

Tenure is an important part of retaining employees. Good employees are the cornerstone of any business worth keeping.
—Ingo H. Leubner, Crystallization Consulting

When I was in business, I felt the negatives outweighed the positives of tenure. Then I became an educator. The principal who hired me thought I was doing an excellent job for the length of his stay in the district. My last principal thought I was scum under her feet and would have fired me at the blink of her eye. Funny how opinions change based on one's perspective!
—Jerry McCabe, Irondequoit

It seems that a one size fits all law doesn't do anyone any good. There should be a way to protect good teachers but remove poor ones. There should be a higher standard to qualify for tenure and a periodic review to maintain it.
—Bob Cherry

In any other profession employees who perform poorly or break the law get fired. Teaching should be no different. Given the importance of educating our children why is this even an issue? Teaching has become a well-compensated profession with great benefits. Yet educational outcomes leave much to be desired. Every debate on how to remedy poor outcomes leads to finger pointing and cries for "more resources." code for more pay for teachers. In N.Y. we already spend the highest per pupil dollar amount without corresponding outcomes. Good teachers have nothing to worry about. But the bad ones do. The tenure system is outdated and needs to end!
—George Thomas, Ogden

Contrary to Karen Magee's claim that the suit is a "politically motivated attack against every dedicated teacher in New York," the attack against tenure is an attack against a system that has failed to provide the best teaching available to our students. The tenure system feathers the nest off under-achieving, poor performing teachers that the teachers' unions refuse to address. Let's couple layoffs solely with performance reviews and leave salary out of if Magee is so concerned that elimination of tenure is just a disguise to reduce costs! But let's also add some "personal conduct clauses" to all the contracts. The fact is that our education system is failing and it is virtually impossible to fire teachers! It's time that the teachers' unions become part of the solution rather than a perpetuation of the problem.
—Keith B. Robinson

Where else in the workplace do employees have this kind of job security? The majority of us are evaluated based upon our daily job performance. Companies cannot be successful if their employees are not productive. Likewise, schools cannot be successful at educating our children if we continue to employ non-effective teachers.
—Carol Corey

"Tenure"- the lifetime achievement award and license for laziness and incompetence! Three years of “motivated and quality” teaching turns into guaranteed lifetime pay increases and employment - how great is that! The system needs to change because some human's nature won't!
—Tom Zimmerman, FAIA, Z2 Architecture PLLC

The tenure system was designed to protect university professors who taught ideas contrary to the current political trend. In a sense, it brought "intellectual freedom" to the university realm. Tenure in public schools was won by the teachers’ unions to protect their members from scrutiny by school administrations. “Intellectual Freedom” has nothing whatsoever to do with it. It’s all about protecting the jobs of the “out of date” and incompetent teachers.
—Jerry Lighthouse, senior partner, Advanced Purchasing Technology

I completely agree with the plaintiffs. Everyone knows who the bad teachers are in every school, but all of the protections make it too difficult/too expensive to get rid of them. We have a "teacher" in our district making more than $80,000 per year who does no teaching whatsoever: she either shows film strips or displays info on an overhead projector for students to use while filling out worksheets (while she works on her computer). She has made hundreds of students hate science!
—Karen Zilora, Creative Scanning Solutions Inc.

Simple logic - no other profession (that I can think of) has tenure for its workers, so why teachers? They should keep their job based on factors deemed appropriate by their supervisors; just like the general public. Seems like an incentive to slack off or become complacent to me. And, a protection for those few who are poor teachers.
—David Wagner

If anyone really cares about the children in this state, they want only good teachers working in our schools. Unions only care about the welfare of their members. (Based on their actions, union leaders only care about union leaders. Members come second.) Tenure is the biggest tool the teachers unions have to protect their members, good or bad. In practice, good teachers will be kept with or without tenure. Bad teachers are the ones who benefit most from tenure. Logical conclusion: eliminate tenure if your primary concern is the children. While we're at it, let's eliminate all state unions. Then we could fire the bad NYS employees too.
—Dennis Ditch, Delta Square Inc.

I don't believe that the issue of teacher performance and tenure are necessarily linked. Teachers need some sort of protection from politically motivated termination, hence tenure. Poor performance is a different issue. What's needed is an objective, criterion-based evaluation system that allows for remediation and support of poor performing teachers and an expedited termination system for dangerous or truly incompetent teachers and administrators. As a retired corporate training manager I know there are systematic approaches that can and are used to help employees reach their potential. I also know that it's sometimes necessary to end the employment of those not suited to a particular job. Let’s get past the current debate and find a better solution.
—Frank Orienter, Rochester

Teachers should expect the same kind of job security that most other people face. If your performance is below expectation you go back on probation and if you performance remains below expectation, you're let go. There is no excuse for school districts to be forced to retain poor performing teachers especially when their claim to a job is solely based upon how much seniority they have in their position and their performance stinks, then they should be out the door. It's bad enough teachers don't want their salary based upon yearly evaluations but to not be subject to any evaluation is out of line. I would like to think that teachers, under threat of dismissal for poor performance, might work harder to insure the children they teach successfully graduate from our public schools.
—Michael F. Kloppel, chairman, Ontario County Conservative Party

There are justified criticisms of unionism and labor strength; self-protectionism can be, and sometimes is, one. I would, nevertheless, not have taught a day without representation and, when earned, tenure. Likewise, I would not have played a note without my American Federation of Musicians union card. While there may be teachers and musicians who feel differently, I don't think I've met one. Well, yes I have; several, in-fact, in the education business. They were "former" teachers who had become school administrators. Tenure is not the problem. It is the inability of educational systems' administrators to implement. With or without tenure, a profile of teachers will reveal a profile similar to profiles of, I suppose, all other professions; the grand bell-shaped curve; a few are really good; a few are dismal; the great unwashed masses are in the middle, as this one. Tenure, I believe, is as central and essential to good teaching as free speech is to good democracy.
—Ned Corman

Give our schools the same flexibility to hire and fire as businesses have in this state. Plus change the pension plans to a 401K's like we all got (3-4% match). I will probably have to move to another state when I retire because I will not be able to afford my current property taxes.
—Stanley Hilt

The teachers are not the problem. A vast majority of the teachers do a great job. The problem is the hijacking of the education system by the hierarchy of the unions. New York State has one of the highest costs per student in the nation and the results are not much better in regards to graduation rates, ACT/SAT scores, etc. Our costs per student are more than double that of some other states and the performance levels are nowhere near double. It’s time to eliminate teacher tenure and mandatory union dues/membership. It’s time to make New York a “right to work” state and institute vouchers to encourage private competition to the current draconian government union laden school system. The Department of Education will be able to ensure that both private and public schools will meet high standards. These steps will go a long way in reducing the cost and increasing the quality of education.
—John Rynne, president, Rynne, Murphy & Associates Inc.

Tenure means due process protection for employees: the right to know the charge, a fair investigation and a hearing before an impartial official. Who wouldn't want that for themselves? Many lies have been spread about the difficulty, expense and length of time necessary to bring charges against a tenured teacher to a hearing. During the three year probationary period before the local school board makes the decision whether or not to grant tenure, the teacher is an at-will employee and can be dismissed for any reason. Most contracts require multiple observations during the three years, and the school board has the unfettered right to dismiss the individual or grant tenure. If an administrator is dissatisfied with the performance of a tenured teacher, they can document their concerns and provide access to help for the teacher. If the teacher's performance does not improve, the documentation can be used to obtain dismissal. Tenure protects employees from arbitrary treatment, but does not prevent administrators from carrying out their responsibilities!
—Lola Kelly

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8/8/14 (c) 2014 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email

What You're Saying 

Carl Korn at 11:26:51 AM on 8/8/2014
The poll results are not surprising: There is a widespread misunderstanding what tenure is -- and isn't. When we at NYSUT ask NYers: Do you believe in due process? Do you believe that teachers should have a fair hearing before an impartial third-party before being fired, NYe...  Read More >
James Gross at 4:46:00 PM on 8/24/2014
At what point will the angry tax payers begin to allocate even a token amount of blame on the parents? The ones that invest zero of their own time into their child's education.

We will hold an 8th grade teacher to the fire for wanting job security, but we'll ship c...  Read More >

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