Tuesday, December 18, 2012

KNEA blasts governor’s task force report

By PETER HANCOCK, The Lawrence Journal-World

Officials with the Kansas National Education Association are sharply criticizing a governor’s task force recommendation that calls for revising or narrowing state laws that govern collective bargaining rights of teachers.

“It angers me,” said Mark Desetti, a lobbyist for KNEA, the state’s largest teachers union. “We have worked very hard to build collaborative relationships. Collective bargaining around this state works. Our teachers don’t go out there and demand exorbitant salaries, and they don’t have a right to strike. They go out there, and they work with their school districts.”

Last week, Gov. Sam Brownback’s School Efficiency Task Force held its final meeting to decide on a set of recommendations aimed at improving schools’ efficiency so that more of their budgets would be directed toward classroom instruction.

According to the draft report, one of those recommendations is for the state to, “review/narrow the Professional Negotiations Act to prevent it from hindering operational flexibility/resource assignment.”

“The current topics (and) categories that are subject to negotiation limit the basic ability for a district superintendent to efficiently manage district resources,” the draft report stated.

Democrats and education groups were critical of the governor’s task force from the outset, noting among other things that it was made up mainly of accountants and included no one with professional experience in education.

Kansas House Minority Leader Paul Davis, D-Lawrence, said he was disappointed in the draft report.

“I don’t agree with the premise that we’re going to make schools more efficient by compensating teachers less,” Davis said. “I have never heard a whole lot of complaining about the collective bargaining process. I think that most school administrators and school board members go through that process wishing that they could do more to help compensate teachers. But unfortunately, when we’re not able to adequately fund education, we get put in a situation where teachers are pitted against other needs of a school district.”

Last year, the Ohio Legislature passed a law that greatly limited collective bargaining rights of teachers, but voters in Ohio later repealed that law in a ballot referendum.

Also last year, Wisconsin passed a law stripping teachers and many other public employees of collective bargaining rights. That resulted in unsuccessful efforts to recall Republican Gov. Scott Walker from office.

Desetti said he thinks the task force recommendation may represent the first step toward a similar effort to limit collective bargaining for teachers in Kansas.

“This certainly moves in that direction,” he said. “Now, it doesn’t say to strip (teachers) entirely of bargaining rights. It says revise or narrow the Professional Negotiations Act to prevent it from hindering operational flexibility and resource assignment. You know, ‘resource assignment,’ like what you pay teachers.”

Ken Willard, a member of the Kansas State Board of Education who chaired the task force, declined to comment on the report last week, saying it would be premature to comment before it is finalized and delivered to the governor.

The Kansas Association of School Boards reported in its email newsletter after the meeting that some task force members had said superintendents had told them that collective bargaining agreements limit management flexibility.

But Lawrence Superintendent Rick Doll said that hasn’t been the case locally.

“We have a good relationship with our teachers association, so I can’t really say that’s been a problem for us,” Doll said.