Tennessee’s largest teachers union is ready to do its homework on Gov. Bill Haslam’s education reform plan.
But regardless of the details of the governor’s legislation, union leadership sees a lot in other bills that it says have nothing to do with teaching children.
“I think his proposal is going to be complex enough that we’re going to need to get it and analyze it to see exactly what he’s proposing, and then we’d like to talk to them before we take an official organization position on it,” Mance said. “That is particularly true with anything having to do with tenure.”
Haslam delivered his anticipated tenure-adjusting proposal to the legislature Thursday as the highlight of a package that includes lifting current limits on charter schools in the state. Haslam wants to change the probationary time for teacher tenure from three years to five years.
Mance said the TEA will probably have a detailed response by early next week.
Haslam’s tinkering with the tenure system followed the first real shot in Republican lawmakers’ battle with teachers’ union supporters a day earlier, with a Senate committee voting Wednesday to advance a bill wiping away collective bargaining for teachers. The week was a potent one-two punch to the union. The union bargaining issue has stirred the most passion thus far.
“We’ve got 52,000 members across the state who aren’t happy,” Mance said. “This is devastating for some of them. Keep in mind almost 90 percent of all teachers are covered by negotiated contracts. A lot of teachers have lived during the period when we didn’t have them.
“What negotiation does is provide an orderly and structured way for you to sit down with the school system and talk about those problems and issues that may get in the way of actually improving schools.”
Mance has heard some of the information going around that says non-bargaining local educators make an average $130 a year more than teachers who work under collectively bargained contracts. But, he said, that is taking into account only salary, not both salary and benefits.
He said bargaining groups of teachers almost always exceed what nonbargaining local organizations receive in health insurance.
“If they repeal the bargaining law, they have no opportunity to sit down in an orderly way and have input into the education and school system,” Mance said. “They will be back to a time when teachers were expected to be seen and not heard, and I don’t think that’s something teachers are going to be able to tolerate ever again.
“I don’t think most school boards want that.”
The Tennessee School Boards Association says indeed it does not. But that organization rejects the notion that such an outcome is likely or would, for that matter, be tolerated by the voters who elect local citizens to the boards.
“It serves the best interest of everyone in the system, especially the school board and the teachers, to have a collaborative relationship,” said Lee Harrell, a lobbyist for the TSBA, which is pushing the anti-collective bargaining bill. “School board members are elected, and they have to meet certain standards, and they have to have highly qualified teachers — and they have to recruit and retain highly qualified teachers. It serves them absolutely no good and no interest to shut the teachers out.”
Harrell, who made his remarks before the Senate Education Committee this week, said the 45 school districts in Tennessee that aren’t mandated to collectively bargain with unions — 91 districts are — have an “open relationship” that results in constructive discussions with teachers on the full range of education-related issues.
“They want to hear directly from teachers in the classrooms,” Harrell said of school board members.
Mance said the existence of mandatory collective bargaining in one system can have an effect on a neighboring system, like the Memphis city schools compared to Shelby County schools.
“Some of the benefits in Shelby County are what they are because Memphis is right next door, and Memphis negotiates,” Mance said. “In order to establish and maintain some kind of parity it means that Shelby County has to improve its benefits but also improve teacher involvement in decision-making.
“That is as important to most teachers as the salaries and benefits.”
Mance expressed concern about a flurry of bills in the Legislature he says don’t directly affect education. They include the mandatory collectively bargaining issue, a bill doing away with TEA’s members selecting people for the Tennessee Consolidated Retirement System board of trustees and a bill to remove a payroll dues deduction for any employee organization that participates in politics.
“There are a number of bills around, and none of them have anything to do with support of teaching in the classroom or support for education reform that have any possibility of improving the education of Tennessee boys and girls,” he said.