Haslam Cautious on TEA Bargaining Issue

Gov. Bill Haslam is so far keeping mum on his official position as to whether public school teachers and their union, the Tennessee Education Association, should maintain collective bargaining leverage over local school boards.

Speaking at a press conference on the Vanderbilt campus Wednesday, Haslam told reporters gathered in the Wyatt Building on the Peabody College campus that he had previously met with the TEA and would be willing to listen to them regarding collective bargaining, but declined to further articulate his current views on the issue.

“There’s certain things that we know that we want to talk about. We do want to talk about tenure. I think that’s real important,” Haslam said.

The governor went on to say that in order for education in the state to move forward, there needs to be more parental involvement, better principals in schools and less blaming of problems in the system on teachers.

“I hope there’s not an anti-teacher mood because the wrong thing to do right now I think is to point fingers at teachers,” Haslam said. “To say that our problem is all teachers’ faults is just dead wrong.”

Deputy Gov. Claude Ramsey told reporters Tuesday that Haslam had engaged in a “nice conversation” with members of the TEA on Monday in what he described as “a get-acquainted situation.”

“The governor didn’t pull any punches…he talked about his interest in tenure and his interest in charter schools, and he talked some about principal training and professionalism, and how we help education do the job that needs to be done,” said Ramsey.

GOP Caucus Chairwoman Rep. Debra Maggart recently filed a bill that would eliminate collective bargaining between teachers’ unions and school districts. “You’re going to see some of us file some legislation that probably the old guard’s not going to like,” she told TNReport.com on Monday.

The TEA has issued statements denouncing Maggart’s bill and two others by Republican lawmakers seeking to restrict certain public-sector union fundraising practices and political activity.

Below are some of Haslam’s answers to questions at Wednesday’s press conference:

Reporter: A few things with Tennessee Education Association – one of them would take away collective bargaining rights, others would take them off the Tennessee Consolidated Retirement Board – your thoughts on these? Is this something you’ve met with TEA and Republican leadership?

Haslam: I’ve had good discussion with both. We met with TEA and actually had a really good frank conversation. There’s certain things that we know that we want to talk about – we do want to talk about tenure – I think that’s real important. We do want to talk about continuing to expand charter schools. Some of the other things in terms of collective bargaining – I told them we were willing to listen to them. I met with some Republican legislators for dinner last night and heard some ideas there; not something we’ve come out with a final position on – we’ll continue those conversations. Like I said, we know two or three things we definitely want to enter the discussion in a big way on.

Reporter: Is there somewhat of an anti-teacher mood out there, or an anti-TEA mood?

Haslam: I actually think that’s a really good point. I hope there’s not an anti-teacher mood because the wrong thing to do right now I think is to point fingers at teachers, OK. I think what we should start with the basis of is saying how do we really help move education for children forward. And to say that our problem is all teachers’ faults is just dead wrong. I think (with) a lot of things in Tennessee we need to do better. We need to increase parental involvement in schools, we need to make certain we have the very best principals in schools. So to point the finger at teachers and say it’s all your fault – that’s something you won’t see me doing. Now, there are places we won’t engage – do I want to engage on tenure and that issue, you bet. So will we maybe disagree with TEA on that, you bet. But it won’t be about saying that teachers are at fault here.

Reporter: Going back to K-12, do you think that teachers and the TEA should maintain their bargaining rights?

Haslam: Well, I mean, I think that’s part of the discussion we should have. Ultimately, you know, I’m obviously a guy who thinks that you want to have – people should have a seat at the table when it comes to discussions. As a mayor, I was always – I worked against having our police and firefighters have collective bargaining rights, so I kind of have a position on that. I do think with TEA – I told them it was something I’m willing to talk about with them and continue. …We’re going to have a lot of discussion around tenure, a lot of discussions around charter schools and a lot of discussions around…how do we measure teachers’ effectiveness, and make certain we use that data in terms of how we look at these teachers.

Reporter: But when you start that discussion, what’s your position? What do you present?

Haslam: Well, the governor doesn’t always, on every item, present his position. A lot of times as governor you come in and listen and you learn, and then you present your position. …We have definitive positions we’re going to present right off the bat. Others, we’re willing to listen and learn before we come back with, “Here’s where we’re going to be.”