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Northwest Voices

Seattle Times letters to the editor

May 24, 2009 at 6:00 AM

Teacher layoffs

Focus on the cause: bad tax system

The guest column on May 20 by Andrew Kwatinetz [“Teacher retention should be based on effectiveness, not seniority,” Opinion] proposes that Seattle’s teachers be laid off based on their “performance evaluations” instead of seniority. That way, he says, “two popular, highly effective” teachers at his daughter’s elementary school would have jobs next year.

He also states that the layoffs are “understandable” because “we are all making sacrifices.”

No, the layoffs are not understandable. They are a tragedy caused by Washington state’s inadequate and regressive tax system. State funding is so low — 45th in the nation — that Washington’s class sizes are now fifth-highest in the nation. This was before the layoffs.

And not all are making sacrifices. Wealthy individuals and large companies pay low taxes in Washington, which is one of five states without an income tax. That’s why the funding is so inadequate and why we are having massive teacher layoffs.

As to who is laid off, if performance evaluations were used, principals — who write the evaluations — would simply lay off any teacher they disliked, no matter how effective. Perhaps an unpopular teacher who demands “too much” from parents and students?

The teaching profession will not be made more attractive if teachers have to needlessly worry whether they have a job or if they have to make themselves more popular than their colleagues. If Kwatinetz and his organization want to keep good teachers, they should focus on the causes of the layoffs and demand adequate funding from a reformed tax system.

— Kraig Peck, Woodinville

Both performance and seniority should be factors

The response to Andrew Kwatinetz’s guest column has so far fallen along the predictable pro-union/anti-union lines. I would like to suggest there is a middle road.

As a parent and taxpayer, I find a contract specifically precluding performance indicators from personnel decisions to be extreme under any circumstances. It is also unreasonable –and in fact rarely practiced in the private world — to scrap seniority completely in favor of performance measures. However, we have every right and every reason to ask for some consideration of performance to be included.

What if we started by asking that 10 percent of the criteria be based on a performance measure of the teacher’s choice, including supervisor recommendation, peer/parent/student recommendations, WASL scores or documented September-to-May progress of students, etc. The goal would be to get some data about what kinds of evaluations are meaningful without creating unacceptable burdens on educators. Then, in the rose-colored future, the performance-based indicators could be increased over time to an appropriate weight in staffing decisions.

— Chris Stewart, Seattle

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