Kansas Lawmakers Gut Teacher Collective Bargaining Overhaul

By John Celock

In a win for the Kansas teacher’s union and other education groups, the Kansas House of Representatives gutted a bill that would have allowed teachers to negotiate their own contracts in favor of a compromise bill.

The House voted 67-52 to adopt an amendment to gut legislation that would have removed the Kansas National Education Association as the sole negotiator of teacher contracts. The amendment instead inserted a compromise bill negotiated by the KNEA and organizations representing other educational entities, including school boards that will place new limits about what can be negotiated in teacher contracts. The vote capped an emotional debate where opponents described potential harm to teachers in the state, while supporters said the original bill would allow for teachers who don’t belong to the union to negotiate their own fate.

“In 2013 this body charged KSAB and KNEA to find common ground on the professional negotiations act. They were told to work it out,” Rep. Sue Boldra (R-Hays), the sponsor of the amendment, said during debate. “It took them 18 months and they came up with a compromise that all parties agreed on.”

Boldra was citing ongoing negotiations between the education groups stemming from similar legislation that was offered in 2013. Under the terms of the compromise bill compensation will be the only mandated part of teacher contract negotiations. The local school board and the teachers union would each be able to select up to five additional items to negotiate from a list provided in state law.

The original bill also included provisions to limit negotiations to a series of issues. One area that would have been stripped from negotiation under the original bill was teacher performance evaluations.

Rep. J.R. Claeys (R-Salina), the sponsor of the bill, argued against the amendment, saying that it could proceed as its own bill. The Boldra amendment had been contained in a bill still pending before the House Education Committee. He said that the bill would allow for the hiring of more teachers in the STEM subject areas of science, technology, engineering and math.

“This amendment does not speak to the right of an employee and an employer to come to terms on a contract,” Claeys said during the debate. “I’d encourage the body to vote on a bill that would allow for hiring more science, technology and math teachers in Kansas.”

Claeys also noted that the teachers who do not belong to the KNEA would not be allowed to negotiate on their own under the Boldra amendment as they would under his bill. He noted that since the negotiations for the compromise did not include representation from teachers who do not belong to the KNEA, those teachers did not participate. Most Kansas teachers do not belong to the KNEA but are subjected to the union negotiated contract.

“During this process the majority of the teachers in Kansas did not have a seat at the table,” Claeys said during the debate. “The organizations ignored the directive to look at the underlying bill. They do not represent the majority of the teachers in Kansas.”

While the Boldra amendment passed, Claeys did move that the House Committee of the Whole report the bill favorably for passage by the House on Thursday. The Committee of the Whole process is used for amendments and the House needs to deliver a second vote for passage on Thursday.

Claeys told The Celock Report after the debate on Wednesday that he is “satisfied” with the outcome. He noted that while the final bill will not include the collective bargaining change, there are provisions limiting what can be negotiated. He said that the bill and the issue of changing teacher contract negotiations can now move to the state Senate and receive a debate there.

“I’m satisfied that we are moving in the right direction toward giving teachers who choose not to be represented by a union the right to determine the terms of their employment,” Claeys told The Celock Report.

The debate over the Boldra amendment and the entire bill pitted Democrats and moderate Republicans against conservatives. House Minority Whip Ed Trimmer (R-Winfield), a retired teacher, told the House that the original bill could cause issues in school districts. He said that morale issues could develop with some teachers making more than others, while potential lawsuits could develop over pay differential between male and female teachers.

Trimmer told his colleagues that he had taught both English and technology and he worked harder as an English teacher due to the amount of essays he had to grade and the time to grade the papers.

Rep. Valdenia Winn (D-Kansas City), the House Democratic Caucus’ point person on education policy, claimed that the original bill was an “end run” around the compromise negotiations. She said that the bill would “stab (the negotiating groups) in the back.” Rep. Melissa Rooker (R-Fairway), a moderate Republican, cited the compromise as “positive progress” and noted that the parties at the table would be effected.

Rep. Diana Dierks (R-Salina), a moderate Republican, told her colleagues that experts and not legislators should decide education policy. She also discussed the email barrage received by legislators since the bill was placed on the House calendar Tuesday night. The KNEA and other groups organized to have members email lawmakers. Dierks cited an email from a local school board member.

“I cannot believe the chaos that would ensue with numerous individuals and entities to negotiate,” she said.

House Commerce, Labor and Economic Development Committee Chairman Mark Hutton (R-Wichita) took to the floor to say that the bill would allow for more local control. He also said he was confident that the bill would not cause chaos for school districts, noting that the practice would be similar to those used in the private sector.

The bill had been approved last week by the commerce panel.

“There are corporations that have far more employees than school districts have that deal with this everyday,” Hutton said. “This doesn’t mean you have to convene a negotiating team for every teacher that comes along. It is reasonable that school districts will be able to adapt the same HR practices that corporations across Kansas and across America have.”

Hutton reiterated Claeys’ point that the bill would open the door to all teachers. He also said the compromise bill would be able to be discussed separately.

“They make it sound that the KNEA that enjoys this exclusive right,” Hutton said. ”There are many teachers who do not belong to the KNEA. They want to have their own voice. This bill gives them that opportunity to have that voice.”