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Fri., Sept. 30, 2011, 12:22 p.m.

4th District judge upholds SB 1108, IEA to appeal to Idaho Supreme Court

Fourth District Judge Timothy Hansen has ruled against the Idaho Education Association, upholding the constitutionality of SB 1108, the piece of state Superintendent of Schools Tom Luna's "Students Come First" three-part school reform package that limits teachers' collective bargaining rights, ends an early-retirement incentive program and makes other changes. The IEA sued, saying the bill unconstitutionally violates existing contracts, in part by retroactively ending them; Hansen ruled that it imposes "substantial impairment" on existing contracts, but that it's not unconstitutional because it does so for a "legitimate public purpose," in this case, giving school boards more power in bargaining with teachers. He also rejected arguments that the bill was unconstitutional for addressing more than a single subject.

The IEA said it will appeal the decision to the Idaho Supreme Court. "The bills wrongly curtail the rights of teachers, the IEA, and its local education associations, and they rob local school districts’ ability to make the best decisions for students," the IEA said in a statement. Paul Stark, IEA general counsel, said, “All involved anticipated that whether it was a win, lose, or draw, Judge Hansen’s decision would be appealed and ultimately decided by the Idaho Supreme Court. The Idaho Education Association appreciates Judge Hansen’s expedited decision that allows the parties to have the issues presented to the Supreme Court as soon as possible. The Idaho Education Association further looks forward to the November 2012 election when Idaho voters will finally have a say in overturning the harmful education laws passed this year.”

A referendum in the 2012 general election will give Idaho voters the choice of rejecting all three pieces of the reform package; the others shift funds from salaries to technology boosts, impose a merit-pay bonus system and bring a new focus on online learning. You can read the judge's decision here, and click below for a full report from AP reporter John Miller.


Idaho court upholds big part of Luna's ed reforms

By JOHN MILLER, Associated Press

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — An Idaho state court on Friday upheld the portion of public schools chief Tom Luna's education reforms that weaken some teachers' bargaining rights, ruling against a legal challenge from the Idaho Education Association.

The measure that passed during the 2011 Legislature phases out some teacher job protections, limits collective bargaining and dumps seniority as a factor in layoffs.

The teachers union had been fighting these changes, arguing they are an unconstitutional attack on educators' rights. It now says it will appeal.

Fourth District Judge Timothy Hansen ruled that the law known as Senate Bill 1108 passes constitutional muster, including its provisions that limit contracts between school districts and teachers to just a single year.

Luna contended during the 2011 Legislature that such restrictions were necessary to shift more control to school boards to make hiring and employment decisions, while the union argues it illegally undercuts protections for its members.

In his 18-page decision, Hansen wrote that such intervention by the state may well impair contracts, but that it "is both reasonable and necessary to the legitimate purposes furthered by SB 1108," he said. "As noted above, one of those purposes is returning decision-making power to local school boards."

Luna cheered Hansen's ruling, as did Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter, with both elected leaders contending this is another step in helping improve Idaho's educational system.

Among the other changes in Luna's "Students Come First" reforms: Introducing merit pay for teachers and shifting money from salaries to classroom technology like laptop computers and online education.

"The Legislature did the right thing, and now so has Judge Hansen," Otter said in a statement. "That's welcome news. But we recognize this issue and the fate of Students Come First will remain in the courts — including the court of public opinion. Superintendent Luna and I are confident that Idaho citizens understand what's at stake."

Otter is alluding to union-backed ballot measures set for a vote in November 2012 in which foes of Luna's sweeping education reforms will ask Idaho voters to overturn them.

Following Hansen's ruling Friday, Idaho Education Association lawyer Paul Stark said the group plans to appeal the decision to the Idaho Supreme Court.

"The Idaho Education Association appreciates Judge Hansen's expedited decision that allows the parties to have the issues presented to the Supreme Court as soon as possible," Stark wrote in a statement.

Stark added his organization is also looking forward to making its case to voters ahead of the November 2012 election.


Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.

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Betsy Z. Russell
Betsy Z. Russell joined The Spokesman-Review in 1991. She currently is a reporter in the Boise Bureau covering Idaho state government and politics, and other news from Idaho's state capital.

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