Despite pushback from unions, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin vetoed a bill Tuesday that would have given teachers autonomy over how they use their daily planning period.
Senate Bill 477 unanimously passed the state Senate and completed legislation on March 8, but Tomblin chose to veto it late Tuesday evening because it would have had a “negative impact on teacher collaborations and county board of education budgets.”
Tomblin said he supports teachers having planning periods that are “reasonably unburdened by other demands,” but that signing the bill into law would have prevented principals and teachers from working collaboratively.
In his veto message, Tomblin expressed the need for principals and teachers to cooperate, saying it has a “profoundly positive impact” on effective instruction and student achievement.
Christine Campbell, president of American Federation of Teachers West Virginia, voiced her frustration over Tomblin’s decision Wednesday. She said a fiscal note should be provided if there are concerns over how the bill would have affected county budgets.
Hank Hager, counsel to the Senate Education Committee, said cost concerns came up late in the bill process, but there weren’t any definitive figures given. He also wasn’t sure what the “additional costs” Tomblin referenced in his veto message were, but said he could have gotten an estimate of his own.
Campbell said the only monetary concern she can think of is a need for substitutes to cover a teacher’s instructional time. She said that need is offset by a 2013 bill that includes substitute teaching for at least three instructional days as a job duty for all central office personnel except for the superintendent or those without a teaching or administrative certificate.
With that in mind, Campbell said Tomblin’s concerns with the bill do not outweigh its benefits.
Both AFT West Virginia and the West Virginia Education Association strongly supported the bill and sent letters to the governor’s office that urged him to sign it into law.
Dale Lee, West Virginia Education Association president, personally sent a letter to Tomblin last month when word got out that the state Board of Education would consider asking the governor to veto the bill.
At the school board’s meeting last month, state Superintendent Jim Phares said the bill strips power from principals and diminishes their ability to be effective administrators.
He cited the bill, which said administrators may not require a teacher to attend meetings, training or any other work-related event during a planning period.
In his letter, Lee disagreed with Phares, saying the bill would not impose additional burdens or restrictions on administrators. He also said it wouldn’t prevent teachers from doing anything, but would give them professional discretion regarding how their planning periods are used.
While the bill did restrict administrators from requiring teachers to do anything during their planning period, it didn’t outright prohibit teachers from using that time for something other than planning.
The bill said teachers could participate in school-related activities, teacher evaluation conferences or conducting school-related meetings as long as it is done at his or her discretion.
While months of work ended at the governor’s desk Tuesday, Campbell will continue to seek a solution.
She said language in the state code, which says “no teacher shall be assigned any responsibilities during this (planning) period,” already favors teachers.
Lee also shared that opinion in his letter, which said the bill, as passed by the Legislature, would have merely clarified the existing state code and corrected past abuses of planning time by administrators.
Campbell said teachers would be affected by Tomblin’s decision. She said elementary teachers, who only receive 40 minutes to plan, are a perfect example of why he should have signed the bill because they teach six to eight subjects and have to prepare for each of them every day.
“It’s hard to navigate the expectations of education these days,” she said. “We have new standards through Common Core, which has put a strain on our teachers. If we want success, we have to listen to the teachers, hear what they need and give it to them.”
According to Campbell, what teachers need is uninterrupted planning time.
“What we know and what teachers have expressed time and time again is that they don’t have the time they need to develop effective lessons,” Campbell said.
She said teachers creatively schedule their 8-hour workdays to make time to meet with parents and perform other necessary tasks, but often make personal sacrifices to make sure students are taken care of and lesson plans are ready.
“People don’t realize how much a teacher does in any given day,” Campbell said. “I’ve been a teacher for 18 years and we care about our kids and what they get out of it. We work tirelessly to help them.”
Campbell said the bill empowered teachers to effectively plan, but a veto takes away their opportunity to make necessary decisions.
“Teachers are the ones closest to the students, and they have a direct impact on them,” she said. “The need the ability to say, ‘Today, I need to do this for my kids.’”
Campbell also voiced disappointment with state school board officials, saying they should have supported the bill if they truly want to improve student learning.
Contact writer Samuel Speciale at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-4886. Follow him at twitter.com/wvschools.