The latest draft of a plan to ban unions from negotiating teacher contracts would force school boards to outline exactly how they’ll make those salary and benefits decisions plus require them to solicit public input.
The wording has yet to be officially added to a Senate measure and is still in rough draft form, according to a legislative office assistant to sponsor Jack Johnson, R-Franklin.
But the changes might be what’s necessary to win the votes of more liberal Republicans who balk at stripping unions of their mandatory collective bargaining leverage over locally elected school boards.
Under the current legal arrangement enshrined in law by the 1978 Education Professional Negotiations Act, school districts are forced to negotiate with a “professional employees’ organization” if greater than 50 percent of teachers in a particular district vote for the union to haggle with the school board on their behalf.
House Speaker Beth Harwell has said she’s open to supporting new language that bans collective bargaining, provided it requires local school boards to seek teachers’ comments and suggestions. Haslam has yet to say if he’d sign it.
The main thrust of the new amendment would require every local board of education to adopt a binding professional employee manual dictating how it would set policies on salaries, wages, benefits, including insurance and retirement benefits, leaves of absence, student discipline procedures and working conditions. All of those issues now are currently subject to collective bargaining negotiations. None of those decisions can be based on seniority, according to the rewrite obtained by TNReport.
Local school district policy manuals would have to be renewed at least every three years under the amendment now being considered.
The state Board of Education would also have to draft a sample manual school districts could use to model theirs after. School districts would have until April 17, 2012 to assemble their own versions of the manual, according to the drafted legislation.
Teachers and the public would have at least one public hearing to comment on the district manual and 45 days to provide written feedback, although the board of education could adopt the language regardless what input the public offers.
Both the Department of Education and Human Services would help arrange the model document and suggest areas where local school boards may want to personalize the manual. Both departments are also expected to maintain the state’s model manual to “harmonize” it with new laws or best practices when necessary.
Existing teacher working agreements will stay in effect until their current contracts run out.
The Tennessee Education Association is none too pleased with the Legislature’s push to elbow teachers’ unions out of contract negotiations. Asking teachers to merely comment on a policy manual is no substitute for statutorily requiring that local school districts collectively bargain teachers’ contracts, union officials say.
“Having input and having a formal process to sit down and work out problems is not the same thing,” said Jerry Winters, a lobbyist for the Tennessee Education Association. “If it’s unilaterally developed by the school board, then that becomes little bit more than collective begging.”
The issue is expected to come to a head when both Senate and House committees take up the bill mid-week.