March 6, 2017

Bill would give teachers more sick time

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A bill that would allow teachers to take up to 10 days of sick leave without it hurting their performance evaluations is headed to the desk of Gov. Susana Martinez for her consideration.

The state Senate on Monday unanimously approved House Bill 241, which is subtitled “Teachers are human, too.” It amends the School Personnel Act so that using up to 10 days of personal leave or sick days in a school year would not negatively affect teachers’ performance reviews.

“Teachers will do a better job teaching and will not get the students sick if they are healthy when they are in the classroom,” said Sen. Craig Brandt, R-Rio Rancho, one of the bill’s sponsors. “We should not punish them for doing their job.”

But the bill’s chances of becoming law are probably less than zero, a spokesman for Martinez said.

“It’s DOA,” spokesman Michael Lonergan said. “Today, because of our evaluations, just 12 percent of teachers are missing 10 days or more. That’s incredible. That means more teachers are spending more time with their students in the classroom. Furthermore, our state saved $3.6 million last year alone on substitute teacher costs. Bottom-line: teacher attendance matters.

The bill originated in the House and previously cleared that chamber on a vote of 64-3.

The state has some 21,000 teachers, many of whom have argued that aspects of their evaluations are unfair. The most notable of their complaints is that they can be downgraded for taking excessive sick days or because of poor school attendance by their students.

Representatives of the state’s teacher unions applauded the Legislature for approving the bill.

“The sponsors are correct. Teachers are human and have children, too,” said Charles Goodmacher, spokesman for the National Education Association of New Mexico. “It’s a shame that the Public Education Department fails to recognize this and we need to correct their poor judgment through the legislative process.”

Stephanie Ly, head of the American Federation of Teachers, said the bill “respects that educators and teachers have earned this time… and values their right to stay home sick or with their children who are sick.”

The Martinez administration in 2012 implemented the teacher evaluation system by rule. It uses student test scores, observations by principals and teacher attendance, among other factors, to measure a teacher’s worth.

Teachers and Democrats in the Legislature have filed two lawsuits against the Public Education Department challenging the evaluation system. One suit claims that Martinez’s administration unlawfully took control of teacher evaluations away from school districts. Another argues that the evaluations are fundamentally unfair and could put teachers at risk of being punished or even fired.

Both suits are awaiting trial dates.

The state Public Education Department last fall reported that about 71 percent of the state’s teachers are considered effective or better in the five-point evaluation system.

Contact Robert Nott at 505-986-3021 or rnott@sfnewmexican.com

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