Kansas Lawmakers Advance Teacher Due Process


By John Celock

In an end run around a committee chairman, Kansas lawmakers voted Tuesday to approve a measure to restore mandatory statewide due process for teachers.

The state House of Representatives voted 66-59 to approve an amendment to an arbitration bill that would reverse a 2014 law that allows individual school districts to decide whether or not to allow due process for teacher termination. The debate comes a day after House Education Committee Chairman Clay Aurand (R-Belleville) declined to have the committee work on a similar bill, a move that would have blocked the measure for the remainder of this year.

“My amendment to 2186 corrects a mistake. An egregious mistake that took place at the wee hours of the morning,” Rep. Jerry Stogsdill (D-Prairie Village), who sponsored the amendment, said. “A mistake by a group of exhausted legislators.”

Stogsdill, who was referencing the House approving the 2014 law at 4 a.m., said that the mandatory statewide due process had been effective since it was adopted by the state in 1992. He said that the law had allowed teachers to know that once they were granted tenure they could only be terminated through an arbitration process that allowed both sides to choose an arbitrator and have evidence heard. He said the idea was not “radical” and noted that it would not prevent poor performing teachers from being fired.

Supporters of the 2014 law stressed that the law does not eliminate due process statewide, but rather focuses on local control, saying that school boards and schools superintendents around the state wanted to be able to handle human resources policy on the local level. Under the law, school districts and the local union negotiate the due process issues into teacher contracts.

Supporters of the Stogsdill amendment said that change is needed to provide teachers in the state the feeling that they are appreciated. Rep. Brett Parker (D-Overland Park), a teacher, said that many of his colleagues do not feel valued by those in state government.

“Teachers in Kansas do not feel valued. I can say that as a member of the community,” Parker said. “I can count on one hand the number of teachers in my bldg. that feel valued.”

Parker said that the amendment would not prohibit the termination of poor performing teachers but said that it sends a message to good teachers.

“It does tell good teachers, quality teachers, that they are valued here,” he said.

Rep. Shelee Brim (R-Shawnee), a retired teacher, echoed Parker, saying that teachers “do not feel valued.” She said that during her career she has seen many changes in the state’s education policy but noted that the 2014 due process law did not help.

“Teachers need to be treated like professionals,” Brim told her colleagues.

Opponents of the Stogsdill amendment said that the move was restoring local control and allowed for poor performing teachers not to slip through the cracks and be granted tenure. Rep. Blake Carpenter (R-Derby) told about his government teacher in his senior year of high school in 2008 preferring to show the television program, “Criminal Minds,” rather than teacher about that year’s presidential race.

“Teachers need to be held responsible. It took several years before the school district decided to remove him from the classroom,” Carpenter said. “Teachers need to teach.”

Multiple lawmakers said that they heard from superintendents and school boards that they wanted the due process issue moved to the local level in order to give them the power over human resources. Rep. Bill Sutton (R-Gardner) said that with the state’s new school funding formula likely to move more budgetary power to school districts, he believed that power over human resources should rest at the local level.

The only retired schools superintendent in the House, Rep. Brenda Dietrich (R-Topeka), voted for the amendment. Rep. Valdenia Winn (D-Kansas City), who serves on her city’s Board of Education and is the top Democrat on the House Education Committee, said that she has seen the due process practice work effectively in her school district.

Aurand, who serves on a local Board of Education, told his colleagues that he did not have his committee work on the bill after last week’s hearing because he wanted to work out a compromise between the Kansas National Education Association and the Kansas Association of School Boards. He said that he wanted to see a compromise bill come before the committee rather than a rushed bill.

Aurand said that with lawmakers scheduled to debate a new school funding formula this session, he did not want a due process bill to distract from that. He said supporters of the due process bill had asked him to wait.

“This year when we are working on overall school finance,” Aurand said. “I had people who are signed on to this bill, saying that they did not want it to be a political football.”

The Education Committee held a hearing on the bill last week and Aurand announced at that time that he did not intend on having the committee work on the bill last week or this week. Most House bills that do not pass the House before Thursday will not be able to move to the Senate this year under legislative deadlines. House Minority Leader Jim Ward (D-Wichita), who was serving as a substitute committee member, motioned to have the committee work on the bill immediately and Aurand adjourned the meeting before Ward’s motion was voted on. On Monday, Aurand cancelled a scheduled committee meeting, the last scheduled before Thursday.

Earlier on Tuesday, Rep. Steve Crum (D-Haysville) has offered a motion to pull the due process bill out of the Education Committee and bring it to the floor for debate on Wednesday. The motion, which would have needed 70 votes to pass, was scheduled to be voted on Wednesday morning.

House Education Committee Vice Chairwoman Diana Dierks (R-Salina) expressed her support for the due process amendment, noting that the 2014 vote had come as part of a budget bill that lawmakers had to pass. She noted that many teachers had asked her during last year’s campaign to overturn the 2014 law. She noted that the 2014 vote at 4 a.m. had impacted her that evening.

“When we passed that bill when I left I could not help breaking down in tears,” Dierks said. “You don’t do business that way.”

Rep. Trevor Jacobs (R-Fort Scott) questioned Stogsdill on whether good teachers had been fired due to the 2014 law. Stogsdill said that he did not know exact numbers across the state but said that it has happened. He said the 2014 law leaves teachers open to the whims of administrators.

“School districts can come in right now and say they don’t like your shoe strings and you are out,” Stogsdill said.

Jacobs spoke in favor of local control and said that lawmakers “don’t know if teachers are fired for different colored shoe laces.”

Rep. Anita Judd-Jenkins (R-Arkansas City) said that she knew of a case in her city where a teacher’s job was saved because of due process. She said that a teacher had been assigned to review websites that needed be blocked and was then brought up to be fired because of the websites he looked at. Judd-Jenkins said the teacher, who since chose to leave the Arkansas City schools, had his job saved when he fought the termination.

Lawmakers approved the final bill 68-54 following adoption of the Stogsdill amendment.

Carpenter attempted to steer the bill into more of an education direction by offering an amendment for teacher merit pay. The House Rules Committee ruled that Carpenter’s amendment was not germane.

Stogsdill told lawmakers that the 2016 election had brought more moderate Republicans and Democrats into the Legislature and said it was a “new day.” He said that lawmakers needed to use that to change the state’s policies.

“Today we can start the process of returning our educational system to national prominence,” he said.