The State Board of Education on Thursday denied a request from San Jose Unified and its teachers union to add an extra year of probation in some cases before granting tenure. -- a vote that show the difficulty in changing teacher job protections.

With little discussion, the board rejected the request, 7 to 2. The California Teachers Association, one of the most powerful lobbies in Sacramento, had opposed granting a two-year waiver from the state Education Code -- even though one of the CTA's locals had sought the exemption.

The board's staff had argued the waiver could cause "unequal and potentially contentious treatment of probationary teachers" and changes in the law should be made by the Legislature.

Currently, a school district must decide midway through a teacher's second year whether to offer tenure -- a virtually permanent job -- or dismiss the teacher at the end of the school year.

"I'm deeply disappointed," San Jose Unified Superintendent Vincent Matthews said after the vote in Sacramento. "We believed that our argument was a sound argument and also we believed it really was in the best interest of students."

San Jose Teachers Association President Jennifer Thomas, whose union had tediously negotiated with the district an agreement to improve teacher evaluations and teaching quality, called the vote frustrating.

"Our arguments fell on deaf ears," she said.


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Instead of basing its denial on fact, she accused the board of fearing a move that could be used by partisans in the escalating battle over tenure.

"They took the way out that they thought could protect them," she said. "This is far less than what my members in San Jose deserve."

State board President Sue Burr, a former adviser to Gov. Jerry Brown who moved to deny the petition, said, "We're being asked to waive a fundamental personnel protection that was carefully negotiated."

California has some of the nation's strongest tenure protections, which make it difficult and costly to fire teachers.

San Jose Unified and the local teachers association sought flexibility to grant teachers tenure after one year or to keep a teacher on probation for three years.

The district argued that 18 months -- the point in a teacher's career at which districts must make a tenure decision -- sometimes doesn't allow time to fairly evaluate a candidate for what can be a lifetime job.

Now, Thomas said, when faced with uncertainty over tenure candidates, administrators will err on the side of releasing them, which then leaves a stain on their records.

"I dread running into a problem next year when some employee will lose their job because the State Board of Education couldn't grant us some flexibility," she said.

Matthews said that seeking to change state law, as Burr and the CTA had suggested, is not a viable option.

"If the struggle was this difficult at the state board," he said, "that tells you what the bar would be in the Legislature -- especially with the influence of the CTA."

Contact Sharon Noguchi at 408-271-3775. Follow her at Twitter.com/NoguchiOnK12.