November 26, 2011 in City

Moscow teacher takes union helm

New state laws present challenges
Jessie L. Bonner Associated Press

(Full-size photo)

BOISE – The new president of the statewide teachers union has a tough task reorganizing the 13,000-member group after it took a beating during the 2011 Idaho legislative session, with measures passed to weaken their collective bargaining and phase out some job protections.

But Penni Cyr says she’s up for the assignment.

Cyr is starting a three-year term as president of the Idaho Education Association after nearly 30 years teaching in Moscow public schools. Her husband, Craig, works at Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories Inc. in Pullman, and remains in Moscow, where their four adult children also live.

“I go home when I can, but it’s often time to work,” Cyr said.

Among her top priorities: a campaign to repeal the sweeping education changes made earlier this year with backing from public schools chief Tom Luna and Gov. Butch Otter. The laws will go before Idaho voters next November.

The measures approved by Idaho lawmakers limit collective bargaining to salaries and benefits, dump seniority as a factor in layoffs and require union negotiations to be held in public. Idaho is also introducing teacher merit pay and shifting money from salaries to help pay for the changes, which will arm every high school teacher and student with a laptop and make online classes a requirement to graduate.

“(Students) are going to be excited because they get computers,” Cyr said. “But I worry, are we experimenting on our kids? Where’s the research that shows one-to-one computing devices, requiring online courses, is going to help students achieve greater?”

The state Department of Education countered that Luna did present research to lawmakers to support components of his plan, Students Come First. These materials are also available online, said agency spokeswoman Melissa McGrath.

The teachers union filed a legal challenge to the portion of the plan that limits teacher negotiating power, but a state court upheld the measure in September.

The union has said it plans to appeal.

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