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Temporary teacher contract laws get mixed reviews…

The Idaho Legislature’s K-12 Educational System Interim Committee heard sharply differing views this afternoon on how three controversial teacher contract bills have been working since lawmakers passed them on a temporary, one-year basis this year, and what should be done about them next year. The Idaho Education Association requested that two of the three, SB 1040a, allowing teachers’ pay and contract days to be reduced from one year to the next at a school district’s option, and SB 1147a, limiting all terms in master agreements (contracts between school districts and teachers' unions) to one year only, be allowed to expire. They asked for some modifications to the third bill, HB 261, which governs teacher layoffs.

By contrast, the Idaho School Boards Association and the Idaho School Administrators Association requested that the “sunset,” or expiration clause, be removed from all three bills, making them permanent. All re-enact some provisions from the voter-repealed “Students Come First” reform laws, which rolled back teacher contract rights.

Paul Stark, general counsel for the IEA, said SB 1040a has been “abused,” and a dozen Pocatello teachers have seen their contract days cut without the requirements of the law even being followed. “We don’t believe that that’s how we should treat teachers,” he told the lawmakers. “Frankly, with this law, the pendulum has swung way too far the other way. … We have proven through the governor’s task force and we have proven to the citizens of Idaho that the stakeholders can work together. … So our request is please, let us work on this, and we can find a better solution that fits everybody’s needs.”

But Anne Ritter, president of the Meridian School Board, asked the lawmakers to drop the sunsets from all three bills – and also re-enact another controversial Students Come First provision allowing school districts to unilaterally impose contract terms if they haven’t reached contract agreements with teachers by a mid-June deadline. She said her district, the state’s largest, still hasn’t reached an agreement with its teachers, and is facing a financial crunch that’s forced teacher layoffs and large cuts in the number of school days. “Districts have all made difficult decisions during these challenging financial times,” she told the interim committee. “We need the Legislature to revisit the contract laws to make it possible for school boards to plan appropriately and balance their budgets. … The financial condition of school districts around the state is really at risk.”

Senate Education Chairman John Goedde, R-Coeur d’Alene, said he’s concerned that Idaho school districts’ financial situation, and an increasing reliance on short-term supplemental tax override levies, has made it difficult to evaluate data on how well the three temporary laws are working. “I don’t think that that’s a good environment to use to set policy,” he said. Goedde suggested considering another one-year extension to allow more examination of the three laws’ effects.

Karen Echeverria, executive director of the School Boards Association, said she didn’t know how her group would view such a prospect; Penni Cyr, IEA president, said hers would be open to the idea. The joint legislative committee meets again in November, and may meet in December as well; it’s due to report back to lawmakers, who convene their session in January.


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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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