Described by the Senate and House Education Committees as a “listening session,” lawmakers on Friday heard loud and clear the head of the Idaho Education Association (IEA) express a strong difference of opinion with a counterpart who is director of the Idaho School Board Association.
Karen Echeverria, school board director, testified Monday and Tuesday before the two education committees in separate appearances that “our members voted by a margin of 3 to 1” for the Legislature to consider resurrecting a number of the education reform measures rejected by the voters in November. Among the measures she listed: Limit the duration of master teacher contracts to a school year calendar and allow local school boards to specify end dates for union contract negotiations.
Penny Cyr, president of the IEA, left no doubt where her organization stands in contrast to the school board group. “Frankly, they’re insulting to us,” Cyr told the committee members, adding that “the director of the school board association may speak for her members, but she doesn’t speak for mine.”
Cyr also asked lawmakers to schedule another session in the evening, which would be a more convenient time for teachers to attend and testify.
Echeverria said in her separate testimony to the committees that her group represents “stakeholders” who do not wish to delay consideration of education reforms they consider worthy for the state.
To which Cyr told the legislators of her organization, "You're listening to the stakeholders."
That comment drew a response from Rep. Reed DeMourdaunt, R-Eagle, chairman of the House Education Committee. "School board members are most certainly stakeholders," he told IdahoReporter.com after the hearing. "The most important people we serve with public education are students and parents, and if we lose sight of that, we will not have good educational policy. But school board members are stakeholders, too. They are elected locally, they serve locally and they manage a lot of taxpayer money. If school board members are telling the Legislature that they need some additional tools, we need to listen to them."
There was variety of testimony at the hearing, including comments from a charter school teacher. “Idaho’s public charter schools have a little more freedom and flexibility to manage their day-to-day operations because they are not bound by the shackles of master labor agreements,” said Zach Parker, a teacher at Boise’s Sage International Charter School.
Noting that education budgets are shrinking, Parker told the committee members that “all school boards and administrators need to have more flexibility to adjust and react to these realities.”