The radical changes brought with Luna’s 2011 education laws included some dramatic changes in how teacher contracts are negotiated. For decades, negotiations were conducted between school boards and teachers associations. Lately, thanks to the new laws, some school boards are stepping away from the table, and instead hiring outside lawyers to speak for them.
Meridian Education Association president Luke Franklin says the move to employ a lawyer in contract negotiations makes an already difficult negotiation even more tense, saying “For us it’s much more comfortable as a group of educators going into a bargaining session with someone that understands where we’re coming from” (Boise State Public Radio, June 10).
This defensive move by some school districts would suggest that school board leaders are feeling in danger of not getting their way. Yet the 2011 SCF (Students Come First) laws have meant that school boards now have more power, not less. According to the new laws, if the school board and the local education association fail to come to an agreement on the terms of the contracts, the school board can impose the last best contract on the teachers. This has happened in at least 20 Idaho school districts. “The new bargaining laws mean that school districts don’t need to listen to the people who spend every day with students, and know what works best for students—Idaho teachers,” said Penni Cyr, the president of the Idaho Education Association.
The author of the radical SCF laws, Idaho Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna, claimed recently in an article in the Spokesman-Review that the 20 impositions amounted to “positive news.” But a closer look at Idaho’s bargaining laws reveals an even bleaker picture for teachers who’d hoped to collaborate with their districts.
Of Idaho’s 108 school districts, 28 aren’t big enough to allow bargaining. “The boards of smaller districts can dictate contract terms for the teachers. In these situations, the districts de facto impose the contracts on teachers, with no bargaining whatsoever,” says Cyr. In other words, almost half of Idaho school districts either gave up before coming to a mutually agreeable contract, or didn’t try at all.
The 2011 laws didn’t just give school boards the ability to play the trump card in contract settlements, they also dictated what could and could not be discussed in contract negotiations. Teachers and districts now are restricted to negotiating only on salary and benefits. Every teacher knows, however, that their ability to teach effectively is dramatically impacted by class size, hours taught and supplies budgets—and now those topics are off-limits in contract negotiations.
“Educators know better than anyone what works best for kids in the classroom. The 2011 education laws have silenced our most effective advocates, our teachers,” says Cyr.