News Story

Despite Rampant Tenure Abuses, Proposal 2 Would Wipe Out Slight Reform

Teachers caught with drugs, assaulting students, engaging in sex crimes and distributing alcohol to minors were all protected

Nate Greenwood, a middle school teacher with Jenison Public Schools in Ottawa County, and the president of the local union affiliate, believes that passing Proposal 2 “would restore dignity” to government union workers by nullifying laws passed over the years relating to education. 

He also writes, "I can attest from first-hand experience that none of these bills have had a meaningful, positive impact on children." 

Proposal 2 guarantees the ability of unions to force workers to financially support them, but it would also “override state laws” that conflict with certain provisions in a union contract. One of the laws that would be overturned is a slight reform to teacher tenure rules passed last year that makes it easier to get rid of a poor performing teacher and those who commit particularly egregious acts. The tenure law was specifically cited by the legal team of the Michigan Education Association as a law that would be nullified by the passage of Proposal 2.

Greenwood believes "none" of the bills passed have been good for children. Nationwide, one out of every 57 doctors and one of 97 lawyers loses his or her license for malpractice whereas only one out of every 2,500 unionized, public school teachers with tenure gets fired in any given year. Let’s look at some of the ways the previous tenure law protected Michigan teachers who were employed for four years or more:

Probably the most extreme example was a case that occurred from 1980 through 1993 involving an Ann Arbor gym teacher who was accused by six female students of sexual advances. The students testified and were found credible by the school board, and the teacher was fired for unprofessional conduct. The case was Ann Arbor Bd of Ed v. Abrahams.

Though Abrahams never testified in his own defense before the board, the MEA took up the case. While this was being appealed and still pending in 1984, Abrahams got into an argument with his wife, punched her in the face, chased her out into their front lawn and killed her with an ax. Despite the murder conviction, the MEA continued to pursue the case; after 13 years of litigation, the union won $156,500 in legal fees and an additional $200,000 in back pay for a man sitting in prison.

More recently, tenure rules have protected a Byron Center teacher arrested for picking up a prostitute and drinking and driving, a Grand Ledge educator accused of engaging in sex crimes with teenage boys, a Harbor Beach teacher who was caught assaulting students, and after an investigation also was found to have been kissing students. Dearborn had four tenured employees protected; two accused of sexual misconduct and two accused of illegal drug possession — they all took a buyout.

And even when a school district goes through the numerous expensive and lengthy steps to remove a teacher, the Michigan Teacher Tenure Commission, which is made up of five governor appointees who are often former union officials, still overturns the cases.

The Commission has protected a teacher who tested positive at work for marijuana and had documented cases of failing to teach. A Detroit teacher who slapped a second-grader and had a history of corporal punishment in the classroom, all documented, was also ordered back in school. In Swartz Creek, a counselor found by an outside psychiatrist and a separate psychologist to be “mentally unfit to work with students” was ordered reinstated and given back pay just last year. The employee was said to be “paranoid” and “rambling,” sent an inappropriate email with a virus to school staff and threatened a co-worker with a nephew who was “in the FBI.” That “educator” is back in the district.

Dozens of districts around the state have paid millions in legal fees to try and rid themselves of poor or criminal educators. But, as one administrator notes, there is no incentive for poor teachers to leave the profession — they often continue to get paid while on administrative leave and “the MEA is paying for their legal fees.”

As Gladwin Superintendent Rick Seebeck, who was dealing with trying to remove a teacher charged with furnishing alcohol to minors, said to Capitol Confidential last year, “What other job on the planet affords employees with the level of job security where whatever mistakes you make, you cannot be dismissed by your employer? (The tenure process) is simply crazy."

For these reasons and more very, very few tenured teachers are ever actually removed, but the state’s largest teachers union fought reform to the tenure system every step of the way.

Mr. Greenwood says "none" of the bills passed protects students, but an insane system that protects both the criminal and the incompetent is not good for students, teachers, administrators or taxpayers.

Proposal 2 would wipe out even this slight change to tenure rules, on top of hundreds of other laws passed by an elected legislature.

This is a clear example of a system being run for union-member adults and not for kids.

Michigan Capitol Confidential is the news source produced by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Michigan Capitol Confidential reports with a free-market news perspective.