Split ruling issued in teacher tenure lawsuit
BATON ROUGE (AP) — A judge Tuesday threw out part of an education revamp pushed by Gov. Bobby Jindal as unconstitutional, but upheld the centerpiece provisions that changed teacher tenure and salary laws.
Judge Michael Caldwell ruled that the section of the legislation dealing with the authority of local school boards and school superintendents violated the state constitution because it didn’t fit into the stated objective of the bill.
He said any attempt to connect the authority of school boards with the listed objective of teacher tenure, pay-for-performance and evaluations “requires a long, tenuous and convoluted journey which this court is not willing to make.”
The Baton Rouge judge’s ruling hands a mixed victory to the Louisiana Federation of Teachers, the union that filed the lawsuit challenging the bill, known as Act 1.
The decision gets rid of changes that lessened the power of local school boards over hiring and firing and that required the state superintendent’s review of local school superintendent contracts. It also reinstates a previous law that allows seniority-based protections for teachers when layoffs occur.
But the ruling maintains as constitutional other sections of the bill that the union strongly opposed, including the provisions eliminating statewide teacher pay scales and making it tougher for teachers to reach the job protection status of tenure.
“This ruling upholds the core purpose of the law — rewarding effective teachers and supporting ineffective teachers who want to improve,” Jindal said in a statement.
LFT President Steve Monaghan said the organization will appeal Caldwell’s decision, even as he said the judge’s ruling upheld the union’s point that the bill bundled too many objectives and the changes should have been spread out among multiple measures.
“We believe that the judge here gave his best ruling, but we do believe that it should be reviewed by the appellate court,” Monaghan said.
Union lawyer Larry Samuel said the bill violated a constitutional provision requiring legislation to have one object, which is designed to give lawmakers the ability to properly comb through proposals and weigh their impact. Samuel said Jindal loaded up one bill to railroad it through the Legislature.
Attorney Jimmy Faircloth, representing the Jindal administration and the state, said all parts of the bill related to teacher employment and could be included together under the constitution.
Faircloth said he’d talk to Superintendent of Education John White about whether to appeal the judge’s decision to toss out the school board section of the bill.
“The more substantive parts of the act were upheld,” Faircloth said.
Faircloth noted that local school districts have negotiated new contracts and policies based on the part of Act 1 that was ruled unconstitutional, and he said those arrangements were still valid.
“School boards statewide have made bold changes to their layoff and compensation policies that will keep good teachers in the classroom. We await the specifics of the ruling, and we encourage all districts to maintain the reforms they have put in place,” White said in a statement.
But Scott Richard, head of the Louisiana School Boards Association, said the judge’s decision could have some school boards revisiting those newly adopted regulations.
Tuesday’s ruling was the second time in a month that some of Jindal’s education initiatives have run into trouble with a judge.
Financing for the governor’s statewide voucher program has been deemed unconstitutional by another district court judge, a ruling that is being appealed to the Louisiana Supreme Court.