Prepared remarks by Idaho Education Association Committee President Sherri Wood for the Senate Education Committee, February 17, 2011
Chairman Goedde and members of the committee, thank you for this opportunity to speak. I am Sherri Wood, President of the Idaho Education Association.
As you’ve seen over the past few weeks, our concerns with Superintendent Luna’s proposals are shared by an overwhelming majority of Idaho parents and students. We ask you to think about how the legislation would have a devastating impact on the thousands of Idahoans – IEA members and non members alike – who work in our schools. We advocate for all educators, not just those who pay IEA dues.
Last week, Mr. Luna accused the IEA of sidestepping issues related to teacher contracts, so let’s be clear: Senate Bill 1108 would seriously damage education in Idaho.
The bill would end decades of win-win negotiations that ensure our schools work well for students, teachers, administrators, and parents. From class sizes to student health and safety to lesson planning, 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.
The bill strips local control in dozens of ways. If this bill had been introduced in Washington, D.C., you would be outraged at the federal government’s overreach. School districts need flexibility to maximize resources. The Luna legislation dictates timelines and mandates that will create chaos for school districts large and small.
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. The government teacher and football coach could be at risk when the mayor’s son doesn’t get much playing time. Without just cause, teachers could be fired for arbitrary, irrational, or malicious reasons.
In the past, when legislators discussed eliminating the Early Retirement Incentive Program, 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.
Two weeks ago, the Wyoming Senate killed 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. We’re also concerned that elimination of the 99 percent funding floor will create unfunded mandates for districts that would be devastating to laid-off teachers and the students they leave behind.
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 is unfair to young educators, too. You heard testimony last week from several young teachers and education majors who – partly because of Idaho’s disinvestment in education and partly because of this proposed overhaul – have decided that Idaho is not the place for them to start their careers. They will look elsewhere.
As former IEA Executive Director Jim Shackelford told you last week, Idaho has a long history of collaboration on educational issues. The Luna plan in general and Senate Bill 1108 in particular 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 tell you that outcome happened because the Legislature ordered the education stakeholders to get together and come up with a plan they could all embrace.
From the beginning, the Luna plan’s fatal flaw has been the lack of stakeholder involvement. In America, we have government of the people, by the people, and for the people. During the debate of the past few weeks, you’ve seen Idahoans take this concept very seriously. You’ve heard from thousands of Idahoans via emails, calls and letters to editors, and you heard from a few hundred of them in person last week – yet the bills before you today are little changed from the legislation that Idahoans overwhelmingly oppose. Many Idahoans simply don’t feel they’ve been heard.
But you have an opportunity with your votes today to assure the people of Idaho that they have been heard. On behalf of Idaho’s students and teachers and parents who’ve spoken against the Luna plan, we urge you to vote no on this legislation and help everyone involved in Idaho education work together to make our schools the best they can be for our children. Thank you.