By John Celock
Kansas lawmakers were told Thursday that removing collective bargaining for teachers would allow free market forces to help recruit and retain teachers.
Proponents of a bill to change the terms of teacher contract bargaining and allowing teachers to negotiate on their own told a legislative committee that the legislation would make it easier to bring in more teachers with professional qualifications in the sciences. Opponents said that it would not have that effect and would reduce local control of education. The hearing was held before the House Commerce, Labor and Economic Development Committee.
“I know as we seek to get professionals into our schools for technical subjects, we need to get them to negotiate salary,” state Board of Education member Steve Roberts, a math teacher, told lawmakers.
Under the terms of the bill, teacher contracts would be limited to hours and salary issues, along with time off. The bill would prohibit teacher evaluations from being negotiated. The bill would also allow teachers to opt out of a contract negotiated by the teacher’s union and instead negotiate on their own. Kansas teachers are already allowed to opt out of the union but are required to accept the union contract.
Rep. J.R. Claeys (R-Salina) introduced the bill last month. It is similar to a bill considered in 2013.
Roberts, who stressed he was speaking as an individual and not on behalf of the board, said that with a change to allow teachers to negotiate privately, it would be possible to offer more money to those in the STEM professions rather than based on the salary scale in the contract. He said that a changing world of education required a change in the way recruitment and retention were addressed.
Roberts said that many teachers come into education from another profession and bring the technical know expertise but struggle in areas of classroom management at times. He said that without monetary rewards many leave the classroom quickly.
“We lose a lot of teachers and there are a lot of teachers who come into the classroom and find out it is difficult to teacher certain groups,” Roberts said. “A monetary incentive to stick it out. It was hard for me to give up $100 an hour as an engineer to make $15 an hour as a teacher, but I stuck it out.”
Roberts also noted that “market forces” need to be addressed and school districts should not have teachers doing non-educational work.
“To negotiate better contracts it would make sense to acknowledge that there are market forces out there. If we expand our horizons and hire teachers to flat out teach and hire others to handle the clerical duties,” he said. “I do a third of the day on clerical duty including bus duty.”
Roberts ran into opposition when he suggested that more empathies should be placed on high school teachers in science and math rather than elementary school teachers. He had noted that an elementary school teacher could specialize in finger painting.
Rep. Brandon Whipple (D-Wichita) questioned Roberts on whether people would want to become high school teachers more if they received higher salaries. He also questioned Roberts if he was saying that elementary school teachers were not as intelligent as those at the high school level.
“Both primary and secondary teachers need bachelors degrees and training,” Whipple said. “My wife as a degree in early childhood education and she’s pretty smart. Would she be paid less?”
Roberts said that the system can be worked out to handle the pay issue.
Mark Tallman from the Kansas Association of School Boards represented the education community, which was united in opposition to the bill. Among the groups represented by Tallman were KASB, the Kansas National Education Association and United School Administrators.
Tallman said that following the 2013 discussions; the groups had started to meet with others to negotiate out a compromise bill. He noted a bill pending in the House Education Committee which would redefine the terms of teacher contract negotiations as being the compromise. Under that legislation, the local districts and the union would be able to pick the items to be negotiated from a list provided by the state.
Tallman said the bill in front of the Commerce Committee was not part of the compromise negotiated. He also said that the bill would give more power to the state.
“This would reduce local control because it appears to limit the topics that you can negotiate,” he said.
Tallman said that performance bonuses already exist in some districts to retain teachers, citing a policy in Wichita. He also said that the bill could set that back since it would need to be negotiated individually with each teacher.
Tallman said that the bill would also not necessarily increase salaries.
‘Remember we’re still talking about in every district a fixed amount of money,” Tallman told lawmakers. “You’ll still have a Board of Education that still has to allocate those dollars.”
Tallman said there is interest in finding ways to reward teachers and to get more money to those in the classroom.
Roberts told lawmakers that they need to rethink the education system. One area he cited was prohibiting teachers from allowing personnel evaluations into the contract. He noted that in Kansas City, Kan., the contract requires two evaluations in the first two years of a teacher’s career and then one each year after.
“Only in education can you get away with that nonsense,” he said.