Leaders from both conventional public school districts and charter schools squared off Monday in a joint hearing of the education committees from the Idaho Senate and House of Representatives.
“In my professionally formative years I was taught to always ask one important question,” said Kelly Trudeau, of the Compass Charter School Network in Meridian. “We all must ask, ‘How do we ensure the student receives an excellent teacher?’ The answer is that we don’t let labor unions decide district policies, we give control back to administrators and local school boards.”
At issue for the education committees are seven bills that were introduced at the end of January. Presented to the committees by Karen Echeverria, director of the Idaho School Board Association, the bills would allow school districts greater flexibility at the local level with budgeting, union contract negotiations and staffing.
The committees are also considering proposals to allow “equity in funding” for charter schools, which, by current law, are not permitted to levy local taxes (as conventional schools and districts do).
“We need to level the playing field for charter schools,” Trudeau told the committee.
“We’re all on the same side of this, we all want what’s best for students, and it is false to say that we are at odds,” testified Gail Chumbley, a teacher at Eagle High School. “I am retiring at the end of this school year because I won’t compromise my standards in my classroom, yet I don’t have the resources to serve the students properly. Please retain the contract negotiative powers that teachers currently have.”
The testimony that committee members heard not only underscored tensions between traditional schools and charter schools, but between unionized teachers, and district administrators and trustees.
“Budgets should be straightforward,” Tammy Stevenson, board member of the Minidoka County School District, told the committee members. “If you save money in one area, you should be able to spend it in another area. But as things stand, if we higher fewer teachers we receive fewer funds from the state. This is to say that we’re punished for being fiscally responsible, and that needs to stop. Please help us.”
“Please allow us the flexibility we need,” Dr. Scott Rogers, superintendent of Minidoka County Schools, told the committee. “We need to be able to decide ourselves how many staffers we employ, and how we spend our funding,” echoing Stevenson’s comments.
“There will always be more teachers than there are administrators or school board members,” noted Karen Pyron, superintendent of the Mackay School District. “But our voices are no less important. Please hear what we’re saying. We need increased flexibility with how we manage funds, and how we handle union contracts.”
“I’m concerned with the direction of the ISBA (Idaho School Board Association) bills,” said Chris Stokes. “The ISBA has once again set the theme of ‘us versus them,’ management against teachers. I suggest what the ISBA is about is going back to the days when teachers did not have respectable pay and benefits. Reject the ISBA bills, and quit making teachers make up the difference for inadequate education funding.”