To the casual observer it may appear that the education committees have dealt with very few bills this session. In actuality a significant amount of work has gone into the development of a plethora of education related bills. And, over the remaining days of this week members of the Senate Education Committee will be immersed in discussions about many of these.
In general, the IEA decided earlier to either support or remain neutral on ISBA-sponsored education bills that contain a sunset clause, because any legislation with this additional clause would need to be amended or extended by July 1, 2014 or it would be null and void. This would assure that these issues would be included in the discussion of the interim committee we mentioned in an earlier update.
Both of the bills on tomorrow’s Senate Education Committee agenda that we’ll be opposing do include sunset clauses. However, because of the magnitude of the subject of the two bills and the practical implications that arise in implementing these specific measures, the IEA will oppose the following two pieces of legislation. We also expect to be joined by interested IEA members who have signaled their intent to travel to town to testify against one or both of the measures.
The first Senate bill, SB 1147, limits all contracts to one year with regard to salaries, benefits and any items with direct or indirect cost to the school district; all other portions of the agreement could be extended for no more than two years. The bill also eliminates Fact Finding. In practical terms, this legislation would eliminate the “evergreen” clause.
What is an “evergreen” clause? It is a passage that’s included in most employment contracts that assures that important issues agreed to by both parties and included in the contract continue to be in force or roll over from year to year, unless both parties agree to delete or amend that portion of the contract.
For example, let’s assume the district and teachers’ association agree that a committee will be established to make recommendations about the type professional development the district will offer for teachers. The contract will be modified to include language to that effect. In practice, the “evergreen” clause would assure that the committee meets each year to formulate and offer ideas until or unless the parties decide the committee needs to be eliminated or changed in some way.
The “evergreen” clause assures that the parties do not have to discuss every detail of the contract every single year. SB 1147 would require that any contract item with a direct cost to the district be null and void every year. Any nonfinancial issue could stay in place for two years, assuming both parties agreed.
The second Senate bill, SB 1148 gives the local school board sole authority to reduce or increase contract days and/or reduce or increase the salary of employees for any reason or no reason whatsoever. The bill further denies an individual due process hearing for affected employees.
The IEA opposes this legislation because it allows school districts to unilaterally make changes to employee contracts without reason or any event that would signal the need for such changes. The IEA opposed this concept when it was first introduced in 2009 in bill sponsored by then Rep. Bob Nonini (R-Post Falls), and our position has not changed.
At the time this concept was initially introduced, districts claimed they needed a “tool” to manage their financial situation. As a result, the IEA joined other stakeholders in a month-long process that resulted in the Idaho Code 33-522, the Financial Emergency law that outlines the process the state or local school districts can use to declare a financial emergency and reopen negotiations with the local association for the purpose of lowering salaries and benefits. We believe this is a more prudent approach, and on Thursday we’ll be asking committee members to support SB 1146 the IEA-sponsored bill which would lower the bars necessary for districts to declare a financial emergency.
If you would like to attend the Senate Education Committee meeting, they will be meeting in WW55 at 3 PM. These meetings are open to the public and anyone with an interest may attend and testify to any or all pieces of legislation on the agenda.
ACTION: Contact members of the Senate Education Committee and urge them to vote NO on SB 1147 and SB 1148.