Alabama Legislature may address teacher pay raises this year, tenure changes could be on the table

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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) -- As legislators prepare to return to work Feb. 2, one of the issues percolating in advance of the session is Senate President Del Marsh’s call to increase teacher pay while fundamentally changing the teacher tenure system.

A draft of Marsh’s Raise Act has been released online, but a Marsh spokesman has said the measure is still undergoing changes. A new draft could be released this week.

Alabama Sen. Del Marsh, (R-Anniston)

Alabama Sen. Del Marsh, (R-Anniston)

Marsh has argued the measure is necessary to recruit and retain teachers. The draft proposal calls for creating a bonus pay system for teachers and pay increases tied to student performance, including standardized tests. The measure outlines an evaluation system for teachers, based on performance not seniority, and recent reports indicate it would end the tenure system for new teachers.

Public school teachers are currently eligible for tenure in Alabama after three school years.

The bill has not been filed in the Alabama Senate, but that hasn’t stopped widespread discussion about it.

The Alabama Education Association, which represents public school employees, has said discussions of a raise are appropriate. Teachers haven’t seen their pay increase for seven years. But they contend changes to the tenure system are unwise.

Beverly Sims, an AEA district leader in Madison County, said tenure has been mischaracterized and insists its due process guarantees protect good teachers from cronyism and personal or political vendettas.

“Due process just means that if an administrator, the superintendent, wants, to terminate them, then they just have the right to prove why they shouldn’t be or why they’re doing a good job. That’s all it is,” she said.

Dee Fowler, superintendent of the Madison City Schools, said the tenure issue should be addressed. Fowler said a review of the system would show some changes are in order.

“I don’t know that I would ever be for, no tenure,” Fowler said. “I think that people need job assurances, people need contracts or job assurances, and I think that as people make their home budgets they need to know what’s going to happen, what’s going to be happening in the future, as long as they do their job and do their job efficiently. So, doing away with tenure, no, I’m not for that.

“But I do think we need to study the way it’s done now.”

Fowler also said he’s in favor of a pay raise for teachers.

“Teachers haven’t received a raise in so many years, and they’re well deserving of a raise,” he said. “So I think we would all support a raise.”

But he’s not sure how the two issues raised by Marsh – tenure and teacher pay – will play out, or if they’ll even be considered together.

“I do know that two very important ideas have come together, whether it’s like peanut butter and jelly or the Reese’s Cup,” Fowler said. “I don’t know, but the two ideas are a raise for teachers and an evaluation of tenure. They have come together, we’ll see if they’ll be married or not.”