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Eye On Boise

Senate Ed passes ‘last best offer’ bill for teacher talks on 6-3 vote

The Senate Education Committee has voted 6-3 in favor of House-passed legislation to let school boards unilaterally impose terms if contract talks with teachers unions haven’t reached agreement by June 10. That was a feature of the “Students Come First” laws that voters rejected in Proposition 1 in November, so that rule has been in place the past two years. “Negotiations under these conditions went very well,” Karen Echeverria, executive director of the Idaho School Boards Association, told the committee. “We only had 22 school districts that were unable to reach an agreement.”

Bert Marley of the Idaho Education Association strongly disagreed. “It eliminates valuable tools that are directly responsible for a system of collective bargaining that has been successful for over 40 years,” he said. “This system of collective bargaining gives educators a voice in their workplace. It’s critical to the culture and to the working environment of any school district.” In the 1970s and ‘80s, before the rules, he said, Idaho saw a series of teacher strikes and other labor unrest. “It’s not really bargaining … in any sense of the word, if at the end of the day one person gets to say, ‘this is the way it’s going to be.’”

Linda Clark, superintendent of the Meridian School District, spoke in favor of the bill, HB 260. “I am comfortable with the process that we’ve had, but I think this is a better process,” she said. “There just needs to be a date certain when that process ends.” The bill includes a one-year expiration date, so lawmakers can re-examine it.

Rep. Steven Thayn, R-Emmett, said, “It is not often that Sen. Marley and I agree with each other. … I think this bill is a little premature, and there might even be some different ways to go about it.” But only Thayn and the committee’s two Democratic members, Sens. Branden Durst and Cherie Buckner-Webb of Boise, opposed the bill, which now moves to the full Senate.  Sen. Jim Patrick, R-Twin Falls, said, “I fully believe that there should be a deadline and I think that’s a reasonable deadline.”

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Betsy Z. Russell covers Idaho news from The Spokesman-Review's bureau in Boise.

Named best state-based political blog in Idaho for 2013 by The Fix

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