Remnants of Students Come First considered by Senate committee

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Sen. Branden Durst listens to testimony in Senate Education Committee.

The defeat of Idaho’s Students Come First education reform laws last November set the stage for Monday’s Senate Education Committee hearing in which four legislative reforms involving teacher employment, teacher union contracts and teacher-school district relations were advanced by the committee for further consideration.

“My responsibility is to represent the majority of my membership,” said Karen Echeverria, director of the Idaho State School Boards Association. To that end, Echeverria presented four legislative reforms, stating that “these are the wishes of my membership.”

One proposal requires that teachers’ union contracts be limited to one year, to commence on July 1 of each year and to terminate the following year on June 30.

“What does this do for local school district control?” asked Sen. Branden Durst, D-Boise. “This appears to take control away from local school districts.”

“We believe it is best for school districts to manage their budgets for one year at a time,” Echeverria responded. “Local school districts strive for this, and our proposal better enables school districts to do that.”

Another proposal heard by the committee included legislation to require teachers’ unions to demonstrate that they actually represent more than half—50 percent + 1—of a school district’s teaching staff when seeking to negotiate with a school district.

“This is simply requiring a local teachers’ union to truly represent a majority of the people who will be impacted by, and have to live and work under, the contract that the union helps to put in place,” said Sen. Russ Fulcher, R-Meridian, in support of that idea.

Additionally, Echeverria proposed legislation to bring the process of terminating the employment of certified school district employees more in line with the process currently in place for other state and local school district employees, and to allow local school district board trustees the authority to reduce teachers’ salaries and to place certified school district employees on administrative leave.

“What do you believe these proposals do to teacher morale?” Durst asked Echeverria.

“We are not here to harm teacher morale, senator,” Echeverria responded. “We are, however, seeking ways to enable school districts to conduct their business in fiscally responsible ways.”

“Why do you believe that schools would need to place a teacher on leave or reduce salary from time to time?” asked Sen. Steve Thayn, R-Emmett.
Echeverria replied that local schools and districts are merely seeking the flexibility to do so, as the issue arises.

All four legislative proposals were approved for assignment of bill numbers so they can be discussed in more detail during committee hearings. The vote was along partisan party lines, with Durst, and Sen. Cherie Buckner-Webb, D-Boise, the two lone Democrats on the committee, voting no on all of them.

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