Senate to debate 4 new teacher union bills

Senate to debate 4 new teacher union bills
File photo
BOISE, Idaho (AP) — The Senate Education Committee has agreed to debate a series of bills designed to restrict the power teachers unions have in negotiating multi-year contract agreements and fighting salary cuts, setting the stage for another potentially corrosive battle with public school teachers across the state.

The committee voted along party lines Monday to introduce four new bills being pushed by the Idaho School Boards Association. ISBA Director Karen Echeverria told lawmakers the measures have overwhelming support from school board trustees representing districts big and small and are designed to give trustees more flexibility and precision to manage budgets and make other critical decisions.

For veteran lawmakers, some of the details and objectives of the bills will look familiar to the package of 2011 laws that focused on teacher contracts and bargaining and were overwhelmingly repealed at the ballot box in November.

Committee Chairman John Goedde, R-Coeur d'Alene, acknowledged the challenge of resurrecting ideas rejected by voters. But he also questioned the merits of doing nothing to improve the public school system.

"I don't think anyone believes the status quo is where we need to stay with schools," said Goedde, adding that he will meet this week with the Idaho Education Association, school board officials and administrators in hopes of finding common ground on the proposals.

The first bill introduced Monday would impose a one-year limit on the so-called masters agreements negotiated between union representatives and school board trustees. These broad agreements, which are separate from the individual contracts offered teachers, cover a range of terms and conditions, from salaries, length of school year, teacher duties outside the classroom and other factors.

Echeverria said it's simply more efficient in these days of economic uncertainty for school boards to manage salaries and other expenses year-to-year.

The other bills would:

— Require the local teacher's union to show it has support of 50 percent of its members, plus one more, to enter into contract negotiations.

— Give school boards authority to lower teacher salaries from one year to the next. The proposal is similar to a provision in Students Come First that repealed a 1963 state law that bars a decline in salaries from one year to the next for teachers with at least three years of experience.

— Set limits and criteria for any job related appeal made by a teacher in state courts, including making sure a district judge considers the findings of an administrative judge.

Echeverria said the measures were approved nearly 3-to-1 when school board trustees from districts around the state met in the days after the General Election. She plans to introduce more proposed legislation Tuesday in a House committee.

Monday's developments has the Idaho Education Association, which along with the National Education Association spent $3.4 million to repeal the Students Come First laws, bracing for another legislative showdown.

Last November, voters cast aside three propositions that dealt with specific aspects the overhaul backed by Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter, public schools chief Tom Luna and top Republicans in both chambers. One proposition dealt with limiting teacher collective bargaining rights to salaries and benefits, while a second focused on a plan to pay teachers bonuses based on merit. Proposition 3 covered online class graduation requirements and a plan to give a laptop to every high school teacher and student.

All three were defeated by more than 57 percent of the vote, and while theories explaining the repeal vary, some lawmakers have conceded that the reforms suffered in part because they were crafted without input from a wide variety of groups and interests.

IEA President Penny Cyr said it appears Idaho's school board trustees didn't get that message.

"It's just very frustrating," Cyr said Monday. "It's unfortunate we weren't asked about any of this beforehand by the ISBA."

Cyr said the state teacher's union will take part in talks coordinated by Goedde and other lawmakers.