Lawmakers Advance Bill To Allow Teachers To Negotiate Own Contracts

By John Celock

A Kansas legislative committee advanced legislation Friday that would allow teachers to negotiate their own contracts with school districts.

The state House Commerce, Labor and Economic Development Committee passed legislation on a voice vote that would not make contracts negotiated by the Kansas Education Association to be the only one to stand. Teachers would be allowed to negotiate on their own or accept the KNEA contract. The bill would also limit what could be negotiated to salary, hours and benefits and prohibit teacher evaluations to be negotiated. The bill was opposed by the KNEA and the association representing school boards in the state.

“The way that I see this bill is it is a leveling of the playing field,” Rep. Erin Davis (R-Olathe), a supporter, told The Celock Report following the meeting. “In Kansas we have 30 to 40 percent of the teachers who belong to the KNEA. It is the only exclusive bargaining unit. I see this as a away of leveling the playing field.”

Davis said that she sees the bill as a way to encourage more people to enter the teaching profession, a similar argument of those who spoke in favor of the bill during a hearing Thursday. Davis said that those looking to enter teaching will want to be able to negotiate their own contracts and what they make.

“I don’t see it as limiting teachers at all. It allows them to negotiate their own contracts,” Davis said. “I see it as an opportunity for to encourage more people to come into the teaching profession. They will have a little more say in their employment.”

Davis noted that those in the private sector are allowed to negotiate their own salary and benefits but teachers are prohibited. She noted that they can negotiate over extra payments to advise clubs but not on the main issues.

The legislation is similar to a bill first offered in 2013. Rep. J.R. Claeys (R-Salina) introduced the bill last month.

Opponents of the bill cited the process used during the committee along with who spoke in favor of it. During Thursday’s hearing oral testimony was heard from two members of the Kansas Board of Education, along with written testimony in favor from Dave Trabert, the president of the Kansas Policy Institute. One of the board members is a high school math teacher.

During the hearing, a vote was called while some opponents were waiting to talk.

“I’m surprised that they prematurely stopped representatives from voicing their opinions on the bill,” Rep. Brandon Whipple (D-Wichita) told The Celock Report. “We have a lot of debate in the past on controversial legislation. I never remember representatives from being stopped from voicing out opinions. I am the only one on the committee from Wichita with experience teaching. I wanted to be able to share my experience and the opinions of Wichita.”

Whipple said that he found the bill to be bad policy for the state. He said that he believes that if the bill was good policy it would have been considered longer by the committee.

“It’s politics. Good policy from actual research, compromise and a desire for change. This was pushed as a good thing for teachers but there was not one teacher who came as a proponent,” he said. “We had someone who is head of a think tank and two politicians. They could not find one teacher to speak. The opponents were people who work with teachers.”

During Thursday’s hearing, Mark Tallman, from the Kansas School Board Association spoke on behalf of several opposing groups including the KNEA. Tallman had said the bill would limit efficiency and noted that the groups were backing a compromise bill in the House Education Committee which would allow the union and school districts to set what is negotiable in a contract.

The compromise bill was proposed following the discussions over the 2013 legislation. Whipple noted the compromise bill should be explored.

Whipple reiterated his disagreements with state Board of Education member Steve Roberts who spoke in favor of the bill on Thursday. Roberts in his comments promoted the work of high school teachers, noting his own experience as a high school math teacher in Johnson County.

Roberts was saying that more money was needed to recruit high school science and math teachers, saying they brought more experience than a kindergarten teacher, who he said is an expert in finger painting.

“One of the three people who wanted this is a politician who thinks if you get a bachelor of arts in education, you learn how to finger paint,” Whipple said.

Calling the bill a “big win” for teachers, Davis said she sees it as having a positive impact for educators.

“On the core meat of how much money, what are my benefits, what are my days off, they cannot do that. This bill allows that,” she said. “This bill does not say that the KNEA is not allowed to negotiate. They can be at the table for their members and any others who want to be a part of it.”