Prepared remarks by Idaho Education Association Committee President Sherri Wood for the House Education Committee, March 3, 2011.
Mr. Chairman, members of the Committee, thank you for taking time to hear testimony on Senate Bills 1108 and 1110. I’m Sherri Wood, and I am president of the Idaho Education Association. I’d like to remind you that the IEA advocates for thousands of Idahoans – IEA members and non-members alike – who work in our schools, not just those who pay union dues.
I’m here to tell you – as you’ve heard over and over again through testimony, calls, and emails – that the bills before you today will seriously damage education in Idaho. With the third bill of the Luna plan now tabled in the Senate, you must think about the true motivations Superintendent Luna had in bringing these bills. You must think about whether they will solve our budget problems or complicate them. And you must think about the majority of Idaho parents, students, and educators who’ve said loud and clear that they oppose these policies and want to see these bills defeated.
Idahoans are offended because Senate Bill 1108 is nothing short of the most egregious and mean-spirited attack on teachers that Idaho has ever seen. This legislation would end decades of win-win negotiations that ensure our schools work well for students, teachers, administrators, and parents. Collective bargaining gives teachers a voice into how they do their jobs. Without that voice, we risk going back to the 1960s, when Idaho was a place teachers wanted to avoid.
Superintendent Luna says this bill promotes local control, but it actually strips local control in dozens of ways. School districts need flexibility to maximize resources. The Luna legislation dictates timelines and mandates that will create chaos for school districts large and small. The plan curbs local decision-making authority, from dictating how and what teachers and districts can and cannot bargain to severely limiting teachers’, districts’, and families’ ability to plan for a stable school year.
If this bill had been introduced in Washington, D.C., you would be outraged at the federal government’s overreach. Just this week, Gov. Butch Otter criticized the federal government for “totally ignoring” the states in developing a new plan to identify possible wilderness areas. “Nobody called me,” he said. Perhaps he knows now how educators feel, since nobody called us to discuss any aspect whatsoever of Senate Bill 1108.
Senate Bill 1108 seeks to end the concept of just cause: employee protection against arbitrary dismissal. Due process is not a special right. It’s what good employers provide to employees. Many private sector companies have adopted fair employment practices because they benefit the bottom line, improve employee productivity and morale, and simply because it’s the right thing to do. Just cause is particularly important in education. Teachers, administrators, and school board members face pressure – from parents, business leaders, and religious groups – that’s unknown to people working in other professions.
Contrary to popular belief, Idaho teachers do not have tenure, but many Idaho teachers currently have continuing contracts that give them, their districts, and the families in their schools some assurance from year to year that a teacher will still be there. Think about the havoc the Luna bills will create for families and students and school boards if proven, highly effective teachers can essentially be let go at any time, for no reason.
Teaching is unlike any other profession. We answer to parents – and often grandparents – as well as principals, superintendents, school boards, the state board of education, and the Legislature. Education is not a widgets business; it’s a people business, and teachers need to know they can treat the superintendent’s son or the mayor’s daughter the same as other students without fear of losing their jobs.
Last month, the Wyoming Senate defeated a bill that would have ended continuing contracts for teachers. Lawmakers there realized they’d be taking a property right without due process. Continuing contracts don’t just benefit teachers; they offer stability to districts and communities.
Then there’s the matter of seniority. Mr. Luna does not understand that most teachers find a district they like and do their jobs, raise their families, and get involved in local civic and church activities. It is wrong to say that a district cannot take that loyalty into account. Senate Bill 1108 also seeks to end the Early Retirement Incentive Program. When this was discussed several years ago, the IEA did research to show how ERIP saves the state money. Under Idaho law, teachers have a vested, legal right to receive early retirement benefits. We want you to know that elimination of ERIP would be subject to legal challenge.
Senate Bill 1108 is unfair to young educators, too. Over the past two months, we’ve already heard young teachers say they’ll look elsewhere to start their careers, because Idaho’s long-term disinvestment in education and Senate Bill 1108 are clear signals to them that they are not valued.
As former IEA Executive Director Jim Shackelford told the Senate Education Committee last month, Idaho has a long history of collaboration on educational issues. Senate Bill 1108 threatens to unravel these decades of cooperation. Jim recounted how the 1971 collective bargaining bill passed the House and Senate by lopsided majorities; he didn’t have time to say that outcome happened because the Legislature ordered the education stakeholders to get together and come up with a plan they could all embrace.
That wasn’t the first time the IEA and the Legislature worked together. The Idaho Education Association was formed in 1892 in a partnership with elected officials and school administrators as a way to advocate for public schools and the “uniform and thorough” education mandated in our state’s Constitution. In 1950, the state Republican Party platform said, quote, “the security of teachers in their profession MUST NOT be impaired.” And since 1971, Idaho teachers and boards of education have had the privilege of collaborating on master agreements that include not just wages and benefits but a huge array of other factors, including parent-teacher conferences, bell schedules, health and safety issues, and many more. The Luna plan wants to end the evergreen clause and wipe away years – and, in some cases, decades – of work.
Although Mr. Luna’s plan purports to provide for bargaining between teachers and local school boards, in truth, his plan would alter the process to a point where “bargaining” may cease to exist. Instead, the process could easily devolve into a series of sessions where local school boards could repeatedly say “no” until June 11, then impose whatever settlement they want. You can imagine what sort of morale problems our state’s highly effective teachers would have in such a situation.
With the elimination of the 99 percent protection for district funding, teachers can be laid off four or five weeks into the school year if school enrollment drops by more than 1 percent. Can you imagine what life would be like in countless classrooms next September if teachers don’t know whether they’ll have their jobs in a few weeks and students could be herded into more crowded classes?
I won’t spend much time on Senate Bill 1110. In fact, its continued existence in this budget year seems like a cruel joke on teachers. The Idaho Education Association did take part in discussions of a pay-for-performance plan a year-and-a-half ago. However, we recommended that this plan not be introduced until new money is available to pay for it.
We understand that Senate Bill 1110 would cost the state $38 million in its first year, fiscal year 2013, and more than $50 million each year after that. In the Senate last week, the bill’s co-sponsor, Sen. John Goedde, said there is no funding source for the bill. Chairman Nonini, you were quoted in the media Monday as saying this committee may pass it anyway and then try and figure out how to fund it. That’s fiscally irresponsible in the best of times.
So that leaves us with Senate Bill 1108. Please think about how this bill will not answer the real questions that are hurting Idaho schools. We have effective, committed teachers; we don’t have a strongly funded school system where each child has a desk, each teacher has supplies, and children can take actual – not virtual – field trips to museums, zoos, and special events.
We have a school system where, more and more, local taxpayers are being asked to bear the brunt of their leaders’ bad decisions. Ever since this Legislature removed school funding from the property tax in 2006, school districts have increased their supplemental levies by $34.8 million dollars, or 44 percent. In many cases, levies are no longer supplemental; they’re keeping the doors open. Parents need to know that while Idaho leaders claim they won’t raise taxes, they continue to shift the burden of education costs onto Idaho families.
Idaho schools need help, but it’s not because of ineffective teachers. It’s not because kids don’t have access to technology. It’s because the elected officials of this state refuse to uphold their Constitutionally mandated duty to fund a uniform and thorough system of schools. It’s because elected officials lack the political will to follow the citizens of this state – the people who’ve called, emailed, rallied, testified, passed levies, and told public policy surveys that they would pay one extra cent on their sales tax if it would help our children’s schools.
After the first day of testimony Monday, Chairman Nonini, you said none of it affected you. That is an insult to the people of Idaho. If you won’t listen to the educators who will be most affected by these bills, listen to the parents. Listen to the students. Members of the committee, consider this: These bills do not have the support of Idaho citizens. They do not put students first. It’s up to you to defeat them now.