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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Idaho lawmakers urged to revisit voter-rejected anti-union laws

BOISE – Idaho voters rejected a rollback in teachers’ collective bargaining rights in the November election, but the state’s school boards association is gearing up to try to put some of the same provisions right back into Idaho’s laws. “We really tried to focus on the things that the trustees felt were most important to them, and to leave the rest of it alone,” said Karen Echeverria, executive director of the Idaho School Boards Association. “We hoped that the union would support at least parts of this – we know they won’t be able to support all of it.” Among the provisions the school boards group wants to revive: A June 10 deadline by which, if districts haven’t reached agreements with their local teachers unions, they can just impose contract terms unilaterally. At least 16 Idaho school districts did that this year. “It’s Proposition 1 right back up there again,” said Maria Greeley, a Boise school trustee who opposed the resolution at last month’s state school boards association conference. “I’m not saying that everything in it is bad. … The one piece that concerns me the most is that deadline, because it gives districts the opportunity to abuse the negotiation process. It doesn’t make them come in and do the tough work of working through it.” Greeley was the co-chair of the successful statewide referendum campaign to reject Propositions 1, 2 and 3 on the November ballot; in addition to limiting collective bargaining, the measures imposed a new merit-pay program and required a new focus on technology and online learning, including laptop computers for all Idaho high school students. This fall, Greeley was elected to the Boise school board. Senator John Goedde, R-Coeur d’Alene, chairman of the Senate Education Committee, said of the voters’ rejection of Proposition 1 by 57 percent, “I guess you can interpret that any way you want. They rejected Prop 1 in totality. I don’t know that that means there aren’t parts of Prop 1 that they would not support. And certainly I’ve seen survey data that would lead me to believe that’s the case.” Goedde said he’s seen parts of a private poll commissioned by the secretive Education Voters of Idaho group, which hasn’t publicly revealed its poll data or any information about the poll. He said he expects legislation along the lines of the ISBA resolution to “move forward fairly early in the process” when lawmakers convene in January. “I think we will get lobbied very hard by members of the school boards association, locally elected trustees, to move that forward,” Goedde said. “And if locally elected trustees are supportive of that, I think it deserves a hearing and discussion.” Penni Cyr, president of the Idaho Education Association, said, “The voters have already spoken overwhelmingly. … Evidently ISBA didn’t hear that.” She said, “We took that as a loud and clear response from the citizens of Idaho that the process that was used to bring all these things forward didn’t work, and that we all need to sit down and figure out what is best for education together.” Gov. Butch Otter has hinted that he’ll appoint a 33-member stakeholders group to explore where the state should go next on school reform, in the wake of the voters’ rejection of the “Students Come First” laws he helped champion, along with state schools Superintendent Tom Luna. The school boards association’s membership voted 75 percent in favor of the collective bargaining resolution, which also calls for doing away with a law that prevents teacher salaries from dropping from one year to the next; reviving a requirement to hold teacher negotiations in public; reviving the portion of Proposition 1 that required all contract terms to expire every year; and reinstating a requirement that unions prove they represent more than half of teachers before they’re allowed to negotiate. It was the closest vote among six resolutions that passed; another, proposed by the Boise School District calling for supporting a collaborative approach to education reform, narrowly failed. Echeverria said ISBA believes the law preventing salaries from dropping – which the voter-rejected school reform laws had repealed – might force school districts to permanently match performance-bonus payments handed out this year under the now-repealed merit-pay program that was in Proposition 2. But Deputy Attorney General Brian Kane, in a legal opinion sent to Goedde dated Nov. 9, wrote that that’s not the case. “Pay for performance is a conditional payment – in other words a school district must meet certain criteria to qualify for the payment,” Kane wrote. “If school districts fail to meet the criteria, they do not receive the payment, even if they have previously qualified.” Kane said Monday, “I think the letter speaks for itself. … To me it all comes back to the fact that this is a performance-based payment, which means you have to meet certain criteria in order to qualify for it,” as opposed to a teacher’s salary, which is fixed rather than conditional. The ISBA’s collective bargaining resolution left out one of the most controversial parts of Proposition 1: Limiting teacher contract negotiations to just salary and benefits. “We left that part alone – we said fine,” Echeverria said. “We’ll sit down at the table and negotiate every piece of it you want.” She said even in the two years the controversial law was in effect, many school districts still discussed issues like schedules, safety, school days and more during negotiations, even though the law prohibited them from being included in teacher contracts. The resolution also left out any mention of ending continuing contract rights for teachers, which give Idaho teachers who reach the three-year mark some rights to renew their employment contracts from one year to the next if they’re not being fired for cause. “We don’t have a problem with continuing contracts,” Echeverria said. “We’re not going to touch that.” The resolution also calls for allowing school boards to consider factors in addition to seniority when deciding which teachers to lay off. Proposition 1 banned the use of seniority as a factor in teacher layoffs. “There may be some school districts that want to use it (seniority), and if they do, we certainly want them to have the ability to use it,” Echeverria said.