District court will rule on teacher suit next month

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State attorney agrees with LFT: Act 1 is flawed and imperfect

(Baton Rouge – December 20, 2013) A Baton Rouge district court judge said today that he will rule on January 8, 2014 whether one of Gov. Bobby Jindal’s signature education bills violates the state constitution. But in a surprise turn of events, an attorney defending the controversial law noted that it is “flawed” and “imperfect.”

“This law is harming professional educators right now,” Louisiana Federation of Teachers President Steve Monaghan said after court adjourned this morning. “It is obvious that, no matter how Judge Michael Caldwell rules in January, the legislature will have to revisit this law and try to correct its defects.”

The Federation alleges that Act 1, known to its supporters as the “talent act,” violates a section of the State Constitution that prohibits bundling multiple objectives in one bill. In addition, LFT General Counsel Larry Samuel argued, the act violates state and federal constitutional protections of due process for teachers.

Act one amended and reenacted nine statutes and enacted two entirely new statutes. It tied teacher salaries, tenure, promotions and termination to a new evaluation system. It changed the way school boards contract with superintendents, altered the general powers of school boards, delegated new authority to principals and superintendents and mandated different reduction-in-force policies.

The Act includes a process for termination of teachers that Samuel said does not allow teachers’ side “to be heard at a meaningful time in a meaningful manner.”

After being terminated, a teacher may ask for a hearing by a panel. One member is appointed by the superintendent, one by the teacher’s principal, and one chosen by the teacher.

Obviously, Samuel said, the panel is a panel stacked two-to-one against the teacher. Even so, he said, the superintendent still has ultimate authority to validate the firing no matter what the panel recommends. The panel is essentially powerless.

The teacher’s final option is to challenge the termination in court. Under the old law, a teacher could request a hearing by the local school board

Attorney Jimmy Faircloth, representing the Jindal administration, said he believes the hearing process constitutional. But Judge Caldwell asked him if the Act doesn’t make the superintendent both the “judge and the appellant judge,” which would not be allowed in the legal system.

Faircloth agreed, and said that he believes the law is both “flawed” and “imperfect,” but that its flaws do not rise to a constitutional level. The biggest problem, he said, is that many more teacher termination cases will wind up in district courts.

“The Federation agrees with that assessment,” Monaghan said, while maintaining that the law is unconstitutional.

Last March, Judge Caldwell ruled Act 1 unconstitutional. But the State Supreme Court vacated that decision and sent it back to the 19th Judicial District for a rehearing.

Judge Caldwell took the arguments by both sides under advisement, and said that he will render a decision on Wednesday, January 8, at 11:00 A.M.