January 29, 2013 in Idaho

Students Come First back on agenda

Panel approves four bills with ‘toned-down parts’
By The Spokesman-Review
 

BOISE – Idaho lawmakers on Monday took steps to reinstate parts of the controversial Students Come First school reform laws less than three months after voters overwhelmingly repealed them.

State Superintendent of Schools Tom Luna championed the laws to roll back teachers’ collective bargaining rights; impose a new merit-pay bonus system; and dramatically boost technology in Idaho classrooms, including requiring online classes and supplying a laptop computer to every high school student. The bills passed in 2011 without a single Democratic vote in support and amid widespread opposition from teachers and others; in November, Idaho voters repealed all three by large margins.

The historic referendum vote was the first time since the 1930s that Idaho voters have repealed laws passed by the state Legislature.

The bills introduced Monday would, among other changes, limit all teacher contract provisions to one year; require local teachers unions to prove every year that they have the support of 50 percent plus one of the local teachers before they’re allowed to bargain on their behalf; and repeal a state law that now requires that experienced teachers’ salaries not be reduced from one year to the next.

That law has been on the books in Idaho since 1963 and applies only to teachers who’ve been on the job at least three years and have been granted continuing contract rights. The Students Come First laws repealed it, but the November referendum vote put it back on the books.

“They’re all toned-down parts of what we saw in Students Come First,” said Senate Education Chairman John Goedde, R-Coeur d’Alene, whose committee voted along party lines to introduce the four bills. The panel’s two Democrats, Sens. Branden Durst and Cherie Buckner-Webb of Boise, cast the only “no” votes.

Goedde said he supports the bills, and said he and House Education Committee Chairman Reed DeMordaunt, R-Eagle, have “committed to meet with the education stakeholders” to discuss them. “We will go through these bills line by line, find whatever areas we can find where there’s common ground, and then work from there,” he said. “I look forward to the discussion.”

Karen Echeverria, executive director of the Idaho School Boards Association, proposed the bills Monday; she said her group voted overwhelmingly at its fall convention to back the measures, and she has three more she’ll introduce in a House committee today.

“This is about long-term prudent fiscal management for the school district,” Echeverria said.

But Penni Cyr, president of the Idaho Education Association, the state teachers union, said, “It’s very baffling that the Idaho School Boards Association didn’t hear the voters. This is the same thing, déjà vu. This is the Luna Laws all over again.”

Echeverria said a bill she’ll propose in the House Education Committee today will require that all teacher negotiations be conducted in public and that if negotiations fail, a school district can impose contract terms unilaterally. Both were features of the Students Come First laws that were repealed by Proposition 1 in November.

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