Teachers sound off on Nov. 8 probationary period proposition

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Around 40 teachers from the California Teachers Association protested against propositions 74, 75, and 76 at the corner of Valley Circle Boulevard and Calabasas Road on Oct. 26.

Loud honks came from cars driving by and people waved their hands as the protesters gave cheerful shouts of approval for those who supported their cause. The protesters rallied in Canejo, Simi Valley, Moorpark, and Las Virgenes.

The propositions at the center of the teachers’ rally were three of four that Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and others are supporting on the upcoming Nov. 8 special election ballot.

Proposition 74, if passed by voters, would change the length of teachers’ probationary employment periods from two to five years, among other things.

Proposition 75 would stop the use by public employee labor organizations, such as teachers and higher education faculty unions, of public employee dues or fees for political contributions except with the written consent of its members.

Proposition 76 proposes a state spending cap, changes current minimum state education funding standards and gives the governor special powers to make budget cuts of his or her own choosing when in a fiscal crunch.

Brent Kast, a CSUN student earning his credential in special education, stood in protest on a road median in Calabasas holding a large American flag and a sign that said he opposed the propositions. He has worked in the Las Virgenes School District at Calabasas High School as a special education intern for the past three months.

“I (previously) worked in the district for five years,” Kast said. “I already know a lot of the kids there.”

Although Kast is just beginning his career as teacher, he said these propositions would be a threat to his success.

Jerry Detamore, a CSUN graduate who received his credentials in 1974, protested along with the other members of the Las Virgenes School District.

Detamore has worked in the district for 31 years and has concerns about the propositions to be voted on in the upcoming special election.

“(Gov.) Schwarzenegger doesn’t understand tenure,” Detamore said. “Everyone has the right of due process. All other employees have it. I can easily be let go without my rights being duly processed after 30 years of teaching.”

Ginny Janonotto, a CTA staff representative, handed out signs at the picket line. She taught in Simi Valley for 20 years as a middle-school math teacher.

“We are trying to reach the larger part of the community,” she said. “We have placed news ads and written letters to the editor and led other rallies that have been very successful.”

Janonotto said the protest in Calabasas was smaller because there are only three schools in the area. She said another protest on Kanaan Road and Thousand Oaks Boulevard was larger because there were 15 schools in that area.

“Propositions 74, 75, and 76 are all dangerous,” Janonotto said. “The underlying issue is control. These propositions will silence the voices of public workers.”

According to the Easy Voter Guide provided by the Secretary of State’s office, supporters of Proposition 74 said it would assist schools in replacing problem teachers so that resources can be spent on better performing educators. Supporters say that with a five-year waiting period, teachers have more opportunity to demonstrate their expertise and they deserve tenure, and principals have more time to evaluate teachers.

This will likely lead to a stronger state-funded public education system, supporters contend.

Those who oppose Proposition 74 argue that it does not add any teacher training or support to help new teachers with their jobs and would not address real reform issues, such as class size reduction, better learning materials and campus safety.

“Proposition 74 is touted as (improving) education by increasing permanency, but it really loses due process rights,” Janonotto said. “And there is no time limit between unsatisfactory evaluations. The principal can give a teacher an unsatisfactory evaluation without having to submit their objective critique and then come in 30 days later and give another unsatisfactory evaluation and the teacher would be fired on the spot.”

The law currently allows the teacher 30 days for a hearing and to apply for an appeal, and 90 days to improve their performance before dismissal, she said.

Proposition 74 would allow for instant termination and teachers would have to attend a hearing to save their job after being fired, she also said.

Outside of those who protested on Oct. 26, there are other teachers who do not have the concern of tenure but who also feel threatened by the proposed legislation.

Dale Alpert, a counselor at Granada Hills Senior High School, a charter school, taught for nine years and has been counseling for 22 years.

Alpert said the proposed legislation would not improve education.

“Most teachers don’t last five years right now,” Alpert said. “The rewards just aren’t there.”

Brandon Zaslow, Spanish teacher and colleague of Alpert, is concerned about what she considers damage that will done if the proposition is passed by voters.

“There is already a high turnover in the first five years (regardless of the length of the current probationary period),” Zaslow said. “60 percent of new teachers already leave.”

“The new legislation would be a threat to new teachers and would be a disincentive for quality teachers to even want to be in the profession,” he said. “We need to nurture and support new teachers.”

The proposition would not bring about the necessary change to improve public education, Zaslow said.

“If someone was to be dismissed for unsatisfactory evaluations, there would be no one to take your place,” Zaslow said. “Low performance at the school would increase because a substitute teacher would take their place.”

“It is not a real good way to bring about change,” he said.

Both new and tenured teachers are among some who strongly disapprove the proposed legislation.

Steve Totheroh has been teaching at Calabasas High School for 30 years. He was among those who protested on Oct. 26.

“(Supporters) blindly support (the governor) and his proposals to improve and reform California,” Totheroh said. “People who know anything about education are going to understand the damage that will happen if passed.”

Michael Sullivan can be reached at michael.sullivan.843@csun.edu.