- Associated Press - Thursday, January 24, 2013

RICHMOND — The Virginia House of Delegates passed a major component of Gov. Bob McDonnell’s education reform package Thursday, hours after a Senate committee endorsed the measure.

Mr. McDonnell’s initiative would overhaul evaluation and grievance procedures for teachers and principals. It requires annual evaluations and allows teachers and principals to be fired after one bad appraisal. Local school boards would be authorized to expand teacher probationary periods from three years, the current standard, to five years. The legislation also streamlines the grievance process.

The bill is a more modest version of an unsuccessful measure Mr. McDonnell pushed last year. The Virginia Education Association, the state’s largest teacher organization, opposed last year’s bill because it would have ended teacher tenure. The VEA supports this year’s bill, which leaves tenure intact, and it is sailing through the General Assembly with little resistance.

Delegate Kaye Kory, Fairfax Democrat, was the only lawmaker who spoke against the bill Thursday. Her chief objection was that the bill gives the school board sole authority to select the hearing officer in a grievance procedure. That decision is now made jointly by the employer and the employee, she said.

“If this bill passes, removing an employee could just become a formality as the employer will control all the variables,” Ms. Kory said.

The House voted 84-14 to pass the bill.

John Szewczyk, assistant director of Virginia Professional Educators, opposed the bill at the Senate committee meeting. He objected to allowing teachers to be fired after a single bad evaluation, without being placed on an improvement plan as they currently are. He said it’s not uncommon for veteran teachers who have consistently received high marks to get their first poor appraisal because of a change in leadership or a personality conflict.

VEA President Meg Gruber, however, said the measure provides a fair dismissal process for all school employees.

The committee did not act on another major McDonnell-backed education reform: a bill directing the state Board of Education to develop an easy-to-understand, A-to-F system of grading public school performance. That proposal will be on the committee’s agenda next week.

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