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Teachers File Lawsuit Over Tenure Petition

Two teachers filed suit in Cole County Circuit Court against an initiative petition they feel is seeking to undermine local control of personnel in school districts.
(JEFFERSON CITY, Mo.) KOLR -- Two teachers filed suit in Cole County Circuit Court Tuesday against an initiative petition they feel is seeking to undermine local control of personnel in school districts.

The organization "Teach Great" is a coalition organized to update and modernize educator evaluations, tenure, and seniority-based layoffs. They've created a petition-- trying to leave these issues in the voter's hands come November.

The tenured teachers behind the lawsuit, though, feel that's unfair.

"This is about the children. The focus is on children, period. The end," says Former State Senator Jane Cunningham. "And what is best for children."

Cunningham supports the Teach Great petition. She spent a lot of time in office trying to get rid of tenure.

"What the petition does is limit contracts to 3 years," she says. "Tenure is an artificial job protection for teachers-- it doesn't take into account whether they are a high performing teacher or one that is struggling."

So far, over 275,900 people have signed the petition-- which is over 100,000 more than needed to place the initiative on the November 2014 ballot. It's also the largest number of voter signatures in the history of Missouri's ballot initiative process.

Tenured teachers behind the lawsuit, though, feel the proposal asks the voters to vote on two things at once-- which they feel is unconstitutional.

"It asks them to vote on whether to change the way teachers can negotiate with their districts and it also asks voters to vote on whether to make changes to the teacher tenure system," says Attorney Charles Hatfield, who is representing the teachers. "Of course both those things can be changed-- but the law is they need to be voted on one at a time and you can't lump them together and ask voters to vote on them at the same time."

Cunningham disagrees.

"If you have a bill or petition that has two topics in it like education and highway funding-- that would be two topics," she says. "If you've got one topic in it like this one that is teacher quality but has several provisions in it that all deal with teacher quality-- that's one topic and that's all this petition does."

Instead of teachers being tenured, Teach Great is asking their performances be evaluated on specific test-like criteria once a year. It would also eliminate LIFO which stands for "last in, first out."

The teachers behind the lawsuit want this kept off the November ballot.

"That's what we will be asking," says Hatfield. "If this be kept off the November ballot and people who want to vote on this go back to the drawing board and try again."

Hatfield says the teachers are now waiting on the state to file an answer and the court to set a hearing date to determine whether this provision should be put into the hands of voters in November.


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