Ruling expected in teacher suitPublished 11:33pm Monday, December 17, 2012
BATON ROUGE (AP) — A Baton Rouge district court judge said he’ll announce his decision Tuesday on whether Gov. Bobby Jindal’s revamp of teacher tenure and salary laws was passed in violation of the state constitution.
“I have gone back and forth on this case,” Judge Michael Caldwell told attorneys Monday after hearing arguments. “And I still have not decided where I am on it.”
The bill pushed by Jindal and passed by lawmakers earlier this year made changes to the powers of school boards, teacher hiring and firing rules, teacher pay scales, the duties of principals and the job protection status known as teacher tenure.
A statewide teachers union, the Louisiana Federation of Teachers, filed a lawsuit claiming that too many objectives and statutory changes were crammed into one bill, to rush the legislation to final passage without adequate debate.
LFT lawyer Larry Samuel said the bill violated a constitutional provision designed to give lawmakers the ability to properly comb through proposals and weigh their impact. He said the bill, which became Act 1, amended nine statutes, enacted two new statutes and repealed two dozen provisions in law.
“These are such major ticket items they should have been stand-alone items,” Samuel said. “This was a way calculated to railroad it through.”
Attorney Jimmy Faircloth, representing the Jindal administration and the state, said all parts of the bill were related to teacher employment, including job protections, pay-for-performance plans and evaluation methods.
“The single object rule has not been offended in this instance,” Faircloth said.
The reworking of teacher employment laws was part of Jindal’s signature education overhaul for his second term.
In marathon committee hearings and floor debate, the Republican governor and his allies fast-tracked legislation that created a statewide voucher program, expanded online course offerings for public school students and made it easier to create charter schools.
Teacher unions and local school boards claimed the education package was an attack on traditional public schools, while Jindal said it would improve education in a system where too many schools were failing students.
Financing for the voucher program and online course offerings has been deemed unconstitutional by another district court judge, a ruling that is being appealed to the Louisiana Supreme Court.
Act 1 makes it harder for teachers to reach tenure and scraps the statewide salary schedules for teachers. Decisions about pay raises were shifted to individual principals and school leaders. Seniority can no longer be a primary factor in layoffs.
The bill also lessened local school board authority, strengthening the hand of superintendents and principals in issues of hiring and firing and giving the state education superintendent more review of local school board contracts with their own district leaders.
Samuel said the inclusion of all those items into one piece of legislation was as inappropriate as a lawmaker trying to make changes to statutes involving home improvement fraud, battery of a policy officer and theft of copper and putting it under the title of “public safety” to claim they are all connected.
Faircloth said that during debate on the bill no lawmaker proposed stripping individual items out of the measure because of complaints it was improper to include too many statutory changes.