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Bill would tweak evaluation law

A new bill introduced in the House would require school districts that want to develop their own educator evaluation systems to do so “in conjunction” with their local teacher bargaining units or through signed petitions in districts that don’t have unions.

The bill was introduced by Rep. Millie Hamner, D-Dillon, who said Monday that the bill was suggested by the American Federation of Teachers Colorado, which represents teachers in the Douglas County Schools, where the union and the school board have been feuding.

Colorado’s landmark educator evaluation law, Senate Bill 10-191, sets detailed standards for how principals and teachers are to be evaluated, including the requirement that at least 50 percent of evaluations be based on student growth.

That law allows districts to develop their own systems, but only if they meet or exceed the state model evaluation system that has been developed by the Department of Education. Districts also can adopt the model system in its entirety. All districts are supposed to start using new systems next year, although low evaluations won’t start counting against a teacher’s tenure status until later.

Hamner, who chairs the House Education Committee, said the bill is “clarifying the intent” of SB 10-191 that districts and educators should collaborate in crafting evaluation systems.

Jane Urschel, deputy executive director of the Colorado Association of School Boards, said Monday her group had talked with AFT about the bill but that she hadn’t read the final version. She said CASB’s concern was whether teachers would have veto power over a district’s decision.

“We do not believe that the employees should have the veto,” she said. (Read the bill text here.)

Other education bills move

The House was consumed with the civil unions bill and the Senate again spent hours on gun control, but some education-related business did get done in the Colorado legislature on Monday. Here are the bills of note:

Truancy – The House gave 38-25 final approval to House Bill 13-1021, which is intended to reduce truancy. The most important provision of the bill limits to five days the length of time a student can be held in juvenile detention for violating a court truancy order. The bill also says that taking a truant student to court should be used “only as a last-ditch approach” by school districts and that district policies and practices should “minimize the need for court action and the risk that a court will issue detention orders against a child or parent.”

The bill also specifies the minimum evidence that districts must provide when they ask a judge for a truancy order. It also sets standards for the education provided to students held in detention, saying districts and detention facilities should “ensure that the educational services are available to the juveniles in the facility in a time frame that aligns with the hourly requirements for attendance” specified in state law. Read the amended bill.

Virtual board meetings – Senate Bill 13-015 received 62-0 final approval in the House. The measure allows school boards, if they choose, to create policies for electronic participation in board meetings by members.

The bill sets minimum standards for such policies: An in-person quorum must be present, remote electronic participation should be allowed only in extenuating circumstances, a board may limit the number of meetings a member can attend on the phone and a member participating remotely must be audible to members of the public in a meeting room.

The bill also applies to boards of cooperative education services meetings.

There was a bit of heartburn about the bill as it moved through both houses, particularly over the issue of executive sessions. The bill allows a member to participate remotely in an executive session but requires all board members to sign affidavits affirming that they understand and will comply with state law regarding the confidentiality of executive sessions. (The concern was about a board member letting, say, a spouse overhear an executive session on the phone.)

Some school boards have allowed electronic participation, but others wanted state law on the issue clarified. Read the bill.

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