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‘Last best offer’ teacher negotiations bill passes the House

Legislation to revive one of the most controversial pieces of voter-rejected Proposition 1 – letting Idaho school districts unilaterally impose contract terms if negotiations with their local teachers unions don’t lead to an agreement by June 10 – cleared the House today on a near-party-line vote, with just one Republican, Rep. Douglas Hancey, R-Rexburg, joining all 13 House Democrats in opposing it. HB 260, which passed on a 55-14 vote and now heads to the Senate side, would allow school districts to impose their “last best offer” if no agreement is reached by that point. “This legislation would require that both parties negotiate in good faith,” Rep. Julie VanOrden, R-Pingree, told the House. Rep. Hy Kloc, D-Boise, responded, “It doesn’t sound like negotiations to me.“

Rep. Grant Burgoyne, D-Boise, said, “This legislation is particularly concerning because in my view it goes against what the people voted for last November, and I don’t think that this body should override that.” Noting that a state task force is working on school reform issues, he said, “Somebody is going to have to take a step toward reconciliation, and that task force was supposed to do that, and the school boards association decided to make an end run around the process.”

Rep. Wendy Horman, R-Idaho Falls, a school board member, countered, “This bill is not an end run by the school boards association, and certainly does not eliminate the negotiations process. In fact, they could have brought legislation seeking to limit it, as it was before, to salary and benefits – they did not. What they chose to do was set up a timeline deadline for the process.” Proposition 1 also limited teacher negotiations to only salary and benefits, foreclosing discussion of any other working conditions or issues; the Idaho School Boards Association specifically said it wouldn’t seek to revive that clause.

Rep. Reed DeMordaunt, R-Eagle, noted that a one-year expiration has been added to the bill. “We are forming an interim committee that will look at these specific issues,” he said. “There’s data that’s going to be collected that we could then learn from and hopefully make this better in the future.”

Rep. Janie Ward-Engelking, D-Boise, who like DeMordaunt serves on the task force, said, “I have talked to many of the teachers and parents on that task force, and they feel like this has the potential to derail the whole process.”

Rep. John Rusche, D-Lewiston, said, “I tell you … the real problem with this bill, and several others, is that we have seen a systematic disinvestment in K-12 education, and that is why our school boards are grasping for straws, looking for a leg up, and in so many ways are taking it out on what is their largest expense, the employees.” 

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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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