Attorney Aspires to Eliminate Teacher Tenure

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JEFFERSON CITY - Teacher tenure may soon be a thing of the past for Missouri teachers. Attorney Marc Ellinger filed a petition with the Secretary of State to ban teacher tenure through a constitutional amendment Tuesday. He believes tenure exists as an excuse to allow teachers to hold their jobs forever. Ellinger says its elimination would improve education by holding teachers constantly accountable. 

"I think that what our measure does, it empowers teachers," he says. "It tells the teacher that if you do a good job, whether you're new or you've been there a long time, you're going to have a secure place to work. And we're going to evaluate teachers based on how well they do in the classroom and how well their students do in the classroom."

If supporters can gather 147,000 to 160,000 signatures, the measure could appear before voters in November. If the measure passes, school districts would only be allowed to offer three year contracts to their teachers. Also, schools would no longer receive public funding if seniority is considered when it comes to firing or promoting teachers. 

Missouri NEA President Chris Guinther is opposed to the petition. She says the organization believes teacher tenure is a proven, effective method. 

"We believe that every school district should have an effective evaluation system where teachers know the standards to which they're being held, where principals have adequate training and time to be able to evaluate their teachers," she says. "When that happens, there will be high quality teachers in every classroom. Our kids deserve that, and that's what we strive for. But getting rid of teacher tenure is not the way to get there."

Robyn Behen teaches at Thomas Jefferson Middle School. She's had tenure for eleven years and believes supporters of the measure have a misconstrued view of tenure. 

"At any point, if my principal sees I'm doing an ineffective job, he'll start a paper trail and I will no longer be in the classroom teaching children," she says. "It's not a lifetime position."

She says Missouri schools already have less lenient laws regarding teacher tenure. It takes five years to become a tenure teacher in Missouri. In most states, it's a 2-3 year process. 

"Tenure was put in place as a safety net because, obviously, someone who's taught 16, 17, 30 years, is a more expensive teacher. We're further on the payscale, we have more education."

In the meantime, Guinther and Behen plan to educate students and the community about the proposal.