Ozarks' Group Opposed to Teacher Tenure Amendment Sounds Off

Sep 16, 2014

Members of Conservatives Protecting Our Local Schools speak Tuesday in front of the Christian County Courthouse in downtown Ozark. From left to right: Dr. Mary Byrne, Rep. Jeff Messenger, Rep. Lynn Morris, Rep. Lyndall Fraker.
Credit Scott Harvey / KSMU

Opponents of a proposed constitutional amendment changing how Missouri’s teachers are evaluated say the November ballot initiative would render local school boards obsolete.

A group called Conservatives Protecting Our Local Schools, which includes some Republican southwest Missouri lawmakers, offered their views during a press conference in Ozark on Tuesday.

Dr. Mary Byrne, a group member and co-founder of Missouri Coalition Against Common Core, believes the measure is unnecessary. She says the amendment, which was submitted by initiative petition, is the result of a “self-serving hidden agenda” to churn teachers to restructure education through a process that bypasses legislative input.

“I’m not denying that there are teachers who have probably made a bad career choice and need to be elsewhere, but it’s up to the principals to conduct those evaluations and mentor those teachers into the right choices,” Byrne said.

The amendment states that all teachers would become “at will employees,” with contracts lasting no longer than three years. Public school districts must receive state approval of a “standards based performance evaluation system” by which teachers would be evaluated. That system, which is largely based on “quantifiable student performance data,” will be used in determining a teacher’s employment status and salary.

Read the official ballot title before voters this fall and the full text of the measure.

“You’re no longer collaborating with professionals for the best ideas; you’re competing for your jobs. So that creates a work environment that is very negative. I call it a hostile work environment, not just for the teachers, but hostile for the children as well,” Byrne said.

The petition to place the measure on the November 4 ballot by the group Teach Great received over 275,000 signatures. It was certified by the secretary of state’s office in August. But the organization, which is largely funded by St. Louis billionaire Rex Sinquefield, said earlier this month that it will not pursue an election campaign for Amendment 3.

Marshfield Republican Representative Lyndall Fraker believes the decision by Teach Great stems from public push back.

“What that told us was is that they surveyed and found out that the Missourians didn’t understand it when it was put on the petition, on the ballot, and now they’re starting to learn about it through folks like Dr. Byrne and so they realize that it’s not-we aren’t ready for it in Missouri. So we were happy to hear that,” Fraker said.

Despite no pro Amendment 3 campaign, opponents; which include teachers unions, say they’ll still be vocal in encouraging voters to reject the measure.

Rep. Lynn Morris (R-Nixa), a former school board member, said on Tuesday that there is no one size fits all approach to education reform. Rep. Jeff Messenger (R-Republic), believes there is already a good process in place for holding teachers accountable.

“Our local people vote for the school boards, and the school boards then control our schools. And if they don’t like the issues that are having in the schools there is a process for them to be able to correct that. And that’s called the voter process.”

Teach Great was contacted for comment, but declined noting its choice to not campaign on the issue.

In a press release issued September 9, Teach Great Spokesperson Kate Casas said, “While we still believe in this measure wholeheartedly and will continue to work to reward and protect good teachers, support struggling teachers and make it easier for schools to hire more great teachers, we will not be moving forward with Amendment 3 this year.”

Casas added that over the next several months, the group will focus on strengthening its grassroots base through listening tours across the state.