Oregon Eliminates Tenure

Published October 1, 1997

Lawmakers in the Beaver State toppled a pillar of union protectionism when they eliminated teacher tenure in a bill signed by Democratic Governor John A. Kitzhaber on August 15. Under the new law, all current and new teachers will be employed on renewable two-year contracts. The law also directs the Oregon State Board of Education to establish a system for identifying and rewarding successful schools.

Although no Oregon statute specifically granted “tenure” to a teacher, school boards faced a long and expensive process to dismiss a permanent teacher under the old law. The new law, introduced by GOP Senate Majority Leader Gene Derfler, puts both teachers and administrators on short-term renewable contracts–teachers for two years and administrators for three. An expedited appeals process is available to a teacher whose contract is allowed to expire by a school board.

To encourage school boards to fire incompetent teachers and, if necessary, endure an appeals process, the new law provides that the state will reimburse school boards for all or part of the costs they incur for a teacher’s dismissal or non-renewal of a contract.

The new law weakens seniority preferences by mandating that a district “may not waive competency considerations” when laying off or recalling teachers. But the law also prohibits a school board from using salary as the basis for dismissing or laying off a teacher or not renewing a contract.

Teachers are held more accountable under the new law. Those who violate school district rules are now subject to dismissal; all disciplinary actions are permanently placed in a teacher’s personnel file; school boards are authorized to conduct internal investigations of alleged employee misconduct or wrongdoing at any time; and board actions against teachers can no longer be overturned on technicalities.

If a teacher’s contract is not renewed, the teacher is placed in an assistance program, which is required by the new law to address inefficiency, neglect of duty, inadequate performance, and failure to comply with reasonable requirements. Teachers are not permitted to file grievances while they are in a program of assistance.

The new law also seeks to reward schools that meet educational improvement goals. The Oregon State Board of Education is required by the law to establish a system for identifying successful schools and dispensing appropriate awards for achievement of improvement plans and assessment results.

George A. Clowes is managing editor of School Reform News. His email address is [email protected].