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This just in… Watson out

Thursday, Dec 8, 2005

From WLDS Radio:

State Representative Jim Watson cleared up any confusion about his immediate political plans by formally announcing he will run for another term in the Illinois House. Watson said in October that State Treasurer Judy Baar Topinka approached him about possibly running for lieutenant governor.

Hat tip to a commenter.

What do you think Topinka does now?

- Posted by Rich Miller   64 Comments      

Question of the day

Thursday, Dec 8, 2005

Combine the poll numbers of Ron Gidwitz and Steve Rauschenberger and you get about 9.5 percent. Hardcore pro-life Rauschenberger supporters may have a tough time voting for the pro-choice Gidwitz for governor. Quite a few people may find it difficult to vote for Rauschenberger knowing that he will resign the ticket if Topinka wins the nomination.

But like I wrote in yesterday’s Capitol Fax, the two men are hoping that the synergy created by their new “all reform, all the time” team will result in a sum greater than its parts.

Is “reform” enough of an issue to win a Republican primary in Illinois? Are these the guys to do it, even if Gidwitz spends millions on TV ads?

- Posted by Rich Miller   71 Comments      

Marion team strikes out with commission

Thursday, Dec 8, 2005

The $3 million the state has spent on a baseball stadium for Marion doesn’t seem to be working out yet.

The press release on the Midwest League baseball Web site was brief, but packed quite a wallop.

It stated that a resolution was recently passed by the league’s board of directors, disallowing Marion as a “territory” for the league.

While this news is most certainly troubling to Southern Illinoisans who love baseball, it’s not necessarily the death knell for professional baseball in Southern Illinois.

The resolution was passed after discussion among league members and consultation with the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues, the governing body of Minor League Baseball, which supported the Midwest League’s resolution.

The Southern Illinoisan has also learned that Midwest League owners have at least temporarily rejected John Simmons’ bid to purchase the South Bend, Ind., Silver Hawks. It is possible that Simmons might later be able to reapply to league officials in an effort to purchase the team.

They can spin this all they like, but this is not a positive development by any means.

- Posted by Rich Miller   26 Comments      

And back again…

Thursday, Dec 8, 2005

Scott Reeder, the author of the Small Newspaper Group’s The Hidden Cost of Tenure series asked to respond to the Illinois Federation of Teacher’s response. I figured what the heck. Just means I don’t have to come up with my own stuff.

When I began gathering information for this series, I interviewed a union leader and asked, “Why do tenured teachers so seldom get fired?”

The response I received went like this: Show me the data that says that.

Of course there is a good chance this leader knew no one tracked that information. But it was a well taken point none-the-less.

So during the next six months I:
• Filed 1,500 Freedom of Information Requests with all 876 school districts to get data on evaluations and teacher remediations.
• Waded through every dismissal case involving any Illinois tenured staff member in the last 18 years.
• Conducted one of the largest media document reviews in the history of Cook County Courts.

A 100 percent response rate was achieved from every Illinois school district contacted.

I am going to respond to Mr. Comerford’s comments one at a time.

Sixty-five percent of school districts have successfully dismissed a tenured teacher. The tenure process simply gives teachers due process rights when there is a dispute.

This statement is false. Only 7 percent of Illinois school districts have even sought to fire a tenured teacher and of those cases the school district has succeeded in having a state hearing officer approve the dismissal only 65 percent of the time.

In many cases, tenured teachers resign before a dismissal hearing is held. That data is not tracked by the ISBE, giving a misleading picture of the number of teachers actually removed from the classroom.

The focal point of the series is whether the 1985 Illinois school reforms have brought greater accountability into the classroom. Teachers have always been able to quit their jobs. Is Mr. Comerford’s point that more ineffective teachers are quitting now than before the 1985 school reforms? If so, show us the data.

School administrators are required by law to be trained in proper evaluation procedures. There is no reason for an administrator not to give a bad evaluation to an employee who deserves one.

Only 1 out of 930 evaluations of tenured teachers resulted in an unsatisfactory evaluation, and only 50 percent those who receive unsatisfactory marks leave the profession. If a teacher gave nothing but A’s to all of her students for 10 years straight one could either decide:

• She is teaching nothing but brilliant, hard-working pupils.
• Something is terribly amiss with her standards.

I’ll let commonsense dictate which option is correct.

The four-year probationary period for teachers allows ample time for administrators to decide which employees to retain. Nearly half of teachers leave the profession in the first five years of employment.

This is perhaps the most disingenuous comment of all. Both major teacher unions are lobbying aggressively to cut the probationary period in half. If it is a good thing, why do want it shorter?

The IFT does not support keeping bad teachers in the classroom but believes strongly every teacher has a right to a fair hearing.

I don’t doubt that both teacher unions are concerned about children. But they have an obligation to their memberships to provide vigorous, competent defenses to their members in trouble.

Legal fees for most dismissal cases are less than half of the $100,000 figure used in the newspaper article. Dismissal hearings usually last 2-3 days. Well documented cases take even less time for an attorney and the cost is even lower.

According to whom? If one were to average the costs experienced by school districts who have hired outside legal counsel, it may well exceed that. Geneseo school district has spent more than $400,000 on cases involving a teacher who was dismissed. An informal survey of education law firms put the average in the neighborhood of $100,000. And that does not count the salary of the replacement teacher while the case is pending or the back pay awarded in the cases the school districts lose. Monticello education labor lawyer T.J. Wilson tells his clients to expect to spend at least $70,000 in a dismissal case. Attorneys in the Chicago area charge significantly more.

In 1997, the IFT supported legislation that reduced the remediation period from 1 year to 90 days. The IFT also supported legislation requiring continuing professional development for teachers that is mandatory for them to keep their certification.

Both of these things strike me as accurate. But the series never said otherwise.

The Cicero case that the reporter cites involved a school employee, not a classroom teacher, who worked in multiple classrooms and was not supervised adequately. The article implies that the dismissal process for the employee stretched out over seven years. This is not true. As soon as the district attempted to dismiss the employee, she resigned. The case did not go to hearing. Tenure played no role in this case.

The story correctly identified the person as a tenured staff member. The superintendent quoted said this employee had a long-term absence problem – off and on for seven years. The superintendent indicated that the situation reflected a pervasive problem – a lack of accountability.

The reporter attempts to bury the fact that the assistant principal in East St. Louis was acquitted. Later, when DNA testing proved the allegations, the district fired the employee. Again, tenure was not the reason for the assistant principal remaining on the job; his acquittal by a jury was.

Actually, the fact that he was acquitted is in the top half of the story. When the case went before a hearing officer for dismissal the arbitrator said there was insufficient evidence even though a blood test showed a greater than 99 percent chance that he was the father of his former student’s child. Nine years later a DNA test showed an even greater likelihood. The Teacher Certification Board chose to suspend – but not revoke – his certificate. The majority of members of the board belong to one of the two major teacher unions.

Once again, it’s your turn.

- Posted by Rich Miller   15 Comments      

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