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Law to Address School District Diversity Ratio
Seniority no longer would be a determining factor

The House Rules Committee is one of the few committees where bills can remain active until they are “called up” by the committee chair or the Speaker of the House.

The bills can also cover just about any topic. House Rules is currently looking at bills that have to do with public meeting law, land use changes and employment law just to name a few.

One of the bills in their committee is HB 2001. The bill came to the Rules Committee after passing out of the House Committee on Education.

The bill would require school districts facing budgetary constraints to prioritize teachers for retention based on seniority, unless a teacher being retained has more merit and the retention of the teacher maintains the school district's diversity ratio.

In other words, more experienced teachers will continue to be retained unless the district has a lower seniority teacher that meets a diversity ration and then that teacher would be retained over the other teacher, based on their skin color.

Currently when a public school district in Oregon needs to or chooses to do a reduction in staffing, they do the reduction based on seniority as required by ORS 342.934. It is also typically called out in the staff collective bargaining agreement. In a session where almost, every bill has been driven by diversity, equity and recognizing historically under-served populations, this bill seems to fit the theme and should have received little resistance. It was also sponsored by The Speaker of the House, Representative Kotek (D–Portland).



However, during initial hearings in the House Education Committee, it was openly opposed by the Oregon Education Association (OEA) as well as some teachers that could be considered part of the group protected by the proposed change.

Jared Mason-Gere, OEA Government Relations representative stated in testimony that, “Since the late 1990s, collective bargaining agreements across Oregon have systematically and purposefully omitted “merit”-based language in contracts due to causing difficult and chaotic layoff processes," said Jared Mason-Gere, OEA Government Relations representative. "We fear the language in HB 2001 will create a messy process of trying to reopen and renegotiate contracts. We also fear that this bill could create legal challenges that could set back affirmative hiring and retention practices even further. Legal precedent is very clear that hiring can be used to advance equity goals, but layoff cannot. It is also clear that hiring ratios can be used relative to qualified applicants but cannot be used for other populations such as population served.”

Alisha Chavez a 6th year teacher of K-2 Intensive Skills for Portland Public Schools agreed with OEA. She has stated:

“While, I fully agree with the intention of retaining Black, Indigenous, and Educators of Color, this bill has language that will harm our communities directly. It will change the language to get rid of seniority and replace with “merit” instead. Under the current bill language, an educator who might be fluent in French which is not a language used in my position would be able to bump me as they have more ‘merit’ than me”.

She is correct, in the bill, “Merit” is defines among other ways as the measurement of the ability and effectiveness of one teacher, as measured against the ability and effectiveness of another teacher, based on consideration of any of the following factors: Any languages spoken by the teacher that are not English. It says nothing about the additional language being applicable to the position, the school or needs of the students.

Oregon Partners for Education Justice, a coalition of Oregon associations including Oregon Business Council, Latino Network, Native American Youth and Family (NAYA), and the Coalition of Communities of Color, just to name a few, support the bill. They shared that “According to the 2020 Oregon Educator Equity Report, 38.5% of Oregon’s students identify as racially, ethnically and linguistically diverse, whereas only 10.7% of educators identify as such”.

Max Williams, President and CEO of Oregon Community Foundation agreed that Oregon has made progress in diversifying its K-12 workforce, but teacher diversity still lags significantly behind trends in our K-12 student population. With 62 percent of Oregon teachers of color hired in just the last 5 years, workforce diversity suffers when reductions in force are made based only on merit and seniority.

“HB 2001 offers a reasonable solution to this challenge in requiring school districts, when implementing reductions in force, to retain an educator with less seniority if the educator has more merit and their retention is necessary to maintain the district’s diversity ratio”. said Max Williams

The bill is scheduled for additional public hearing, more opinions may be presented.

--Terese Humboldt

Post Date: 2021-05-01 10:29:36Last Update: 2021-05-01 13:37:14

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