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Education reform is the goal of the first two measures introduced in the state Senate

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A bill recently filed in the Oklahoma Senate could, if passed, bring major changes to the way state teachers are fired, eliminating a controversial component of the process.

Meanwhile, a second Senate bill would require schools begin lowering dropout rates incrementally.

The bills, Senate Bill 1 and Senate Bill 2, were filed by Sen. John Ford, R-Bartlesville, who filed similar legislation last year without success.

This year, however, Ford said he is confident the measures will pass, thanks in part to public sentiment.

"I certainly believe people are ready for change in education reform," Ford said. "Senate Bill 1 certainly has a potential to make a difference in how we educate our children."

SB 1 eliminates a procedure known as "trial de novo," which gives career teachers " or teachers who have spent more than three years at a school district and have obtained tenure " the right to appeal the decision of a school board in termination cases to district court.

Critics of trial de novo say it is costly and an extraordinarily cumbersome process when trying to get rid of bad teachers. Oklahoma is one of only two states that allows for the process

The bill essentially gives career teachers the same due process rights as temporary teachers, teachers who have not yet obtained tenure, meaning that a school board would have the final say on the teacher's employment.

SB 2 would create benchmarks for schools to reduce their dropout rates, mandating they cut dropout percentages by 20 percent every two years. While the penalties for not doing so do not jeopardize accreditation, school district employees would have to undergo training by the state Department of Education and submit a graduation improvement plan to the school board if they failed to meet the target. Supporters say the measure would help lower the state's dropout rate.

Ford said he introduced the bill because of four numbers: 100, 75, 44 and 17. The numbers reflect that out of 100 children entering 9th grade, 75 will graduate, 44 will go on to post-secondary education and only 17 of those will graduate.

"Those numbers are not acceptable," Ford said. "(SB 2) sets a target that is measurable and meaningful and obtainable."

Though the legislative session has yet to start " and it is unclear whether the two bills will suffer a similar fate as Ford's legislation last session "  the two measures are getting the endorsement of one of the state's educational heavy-hitters " state Superintendent-elect Janet Barresi, who takes office in January.

"Senate Bill 1 is an important step toward increasing local control and empowering boards and insuring that we have the most highly qualified teachers in front of our students," Barresi said, adding that the measure was only one step that should be taken to rid classrooms of ineffective teachers.

Barresi said she has spoken to Ford on the two bills and looks forward to working with him on both issues.
Clifton Ogle, president of the state chapter of the American Federation of Teachers, said his group supports doing away with trial de novo because it can drag cases out for over a year and is expensive. However, SB 1 may swing too far in the other direction, Ogle said, leaving teachers with little due process.

"We are willing to discuss another procedure that allows for due process, as long as our teachers and members are afforded a fair hearing," Ogle said. "Unfortunately, we don't always get a fair hearing in front of a school board. We feel a lot of times it's grossly unfair."

Ogle said if the state is going to do away with trial de novo, teachers should have some other level of due process, such as a federal arbitrator, to determine whether the termination process was fair. "Clifton Adcock

photo Sen. John Ford, R-Bartlesville.

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