At least 21 Idaho school districts are unilaterally imposing contract terms on teachers this week, after failing to reach agreement with local teachers unions - an option for districts under the state's controversial “Students Come First” school reform law.
In the Lakeland School District in Kootenai County, members of the Lakeland Education Association voted 96 percent “no” on the district's last offer on salaries and benefits for the coming year, which, like the past four years, includes no base salary increase, but did offer some small thaws in the multi-year pay freeze. “The law is pretty strict now,” said Lakeland business manager Tom Taggart. “So pretty much what they rejected, we just turned around to the board and the board approved it.”
Other North Idaho school districts unilaterally imposing contract terms this week include Kellogg, Mullan and Wallace; in southern Idaho, they range from small districts like Middleton and Cascade to larger ones like Idaho Falls, Nampa and Caldwell. Carrie Scozzaro, a high school art teacher and outgoing president of the Lakeland association, said teachers feel like they're no longer being listened to as professionals. “There's that sort of hopelessness of not being part of the process and being accused of being part of the problem, which is frustrating,” she said.
The Students Come First laws included rolling back most collective bargaining rights for teachers; limiting contract negotiations to salary and benefits and making all contract terms expire each year; and shifting funds from salaries to merit-pay bonuses, a new focus on online learning, and laptop computers for high school students. State schools Superintendent Tom Luna, who proposed the reforms, said it's good news that just 21 of Idaho's 130 school districts and charter schools weren't able to reach agreement by strict new deadlines. “They said there would be strikes, there would be walkouts, there would be lawsuits - none of that has happened,” Luna said Wednesday. “If you measure this against the doomsday scenario that they painted, I think this is very positive news.” You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.