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Policy Manual, Public Input Latest Additions to Bill Banning Collective Bargaining

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.

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Education News

Haslam’s Tenure Bill on Track for Passage

Even though it has been painted as one of the least objectionable proposals in a raft of education overhaul bills in the Tennessee Legislature his year, Gov. Bill Haslam’s tenure reform initiative has yet to win actual support from Democrats or the teachers’ union.

House Republicans advanced the governor’s tenure reform proposal out of a key committee this week after ignoring leading Democrats’ attempts to slow down discussion and implementation of the bill that would make it more difficult for teachers to earn and keep tenure.

“I think most of my caucus is supportive of the concept of changing tenure around,” said Rep. Craig Fitzhugh, the Democratic caucus leader in the House of Representatives.

“My only concern, and our only concern, is that (teacher) evaluation system hasn’t been approved yet,” said Fitzhugh.

Without any provisions to slow down implementation of Haslam’s new tenure rules, he said most of the caucus will probably vote against the measure on the House floor next week. The same measure passed in the Senate 21-12, with Nashville Sen. Douglas Henry casting the lone Democratic vote with Republicans.

Democrats this session have mostly voted in lockstep with the Tennessee Education Association on bills the union opposes. Both Democrats and Republicans allege that TEA’s obvious preference for Democrats when dispensing union campaign contributions is playing a significant role in the battles over GOP-driven education reform.

Democrats say Republican-backed bills targeting teachers’ unions are “political payback.” Republicans say Democrats are “bought and paid for” by union money.

But on tenure at least, TEA has all but surrendered the fight. “I’m not under any illusion that this is going to be stopped. I mean, the votes are there to pass it and I understand that,” said TEA lobbyist Jerry Winters.

The backdrop to the tenure debate involves the Legislature’s decision last year to change a laundry list of laws overhauling education and creating more accountability for teachers as part of a contest for what turned out to be $500 million in federal Race to the Top grant money for Tennessee.

One of the measures called for rewriting the state’s teacher evaluation criteria and mandating that half of every teachers’ evaluation be directly related to student test scores — an issue on which the Tennessee Education Association required a bit of convincing from Gov. Phil Bredesen before they signed off on it.

The TEA ultimately did agree to the reforms, although union officials worried about creating fair evaluation systems for teachers who instruct in subjects like special education, music and history that they say are difficult to test.

Select schools are still testing out the new teacher evaluations, and the state Board of Education has yet to OK details of the new system, which are supposed to be implemented by July 1 — the same time Haslam’s new tenure rules would kick in.

“This is so important that we need to go ahead and scrap the old system and start with the new, and so if nothing else, this bill needs to go through now in order to scrap the system that has not worked and has failed our children,” said Rep. Bill Dunn, the Knoxville Republican carrying the bill.

The rub, according to Winters, is teachers and officials haven’t vetted the new process or worked out the kinks.

“I think we’d want to see what that evaluation system would look like in place. It’s got to have credibility,” he said.

But the TEA can see the writing on the wall, Winters said.

“No, I do not think this is an attack on teachers. I think the details are something that need to be talked about. I do think some of the other bills, such as the repeal of collective bargaining, are an overt attack on the teachers of this state.”

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Featured News

House GOP Now Pitching More Modest Collective Bargaining Reforms

The Republican-controlled House Education Subcommittee approved a rewrite of a bill Wednesday so that it no longer proposes abolishing collective bargaining for teachers unions.

However, the wholesale revisions did nothing to calm passions over the contentious issue. The latest developments may in fact set the stage down the road for intramural Republican discord between compromise-oriented GOP moderates and confrontation-minded conservatives bent on revoking union labor-negotiation leverage and downsizing the Tennessee Education Association’s political heft.

After the vote that moved the bill, HB130, on to the full House Education Committee, Jerry Winters, chief lobbyist for TEA, expressed relief that the House measure no longer proposes completely doing away with collective bargaining.

Nevertheless, TEA is by no means ready to endorse the amended measure, he said.

Teachers unions could still, under the provisions of the amendment, collectively bargain over basic pay and benefits — however not in regard to teacher bonuses or merit-based incentives. Current law would also be altered to make decertifying a local union easier.

“It was a compromise, as I see it, within the Republican caucus,” said Winters. “This was not a compromise with the TEA. We’re still raising questions and we will continue to do that. Clearly, there wasn’t a firm majority in the caucus to move the repeal legislation forward. And I think maybe Rep. (Debra) Maggart certainly misjudged her support on that issue.”

Although Winters called it “huge progress” that, for the moment at least, House Republicans are no longer suggesting outright rescission of collective bargaining for teachers, he said he resented some of Maggart‘s rhetoric as she introduced her bill, which after the new amendment is now fully supported by House Speaker Beth Harwell.

During her seven-and-a-half-minute speech, Maggart declared the intent of the bill is to “remove politics from the classroom” and “rescue our state from the unimaginative doldrums we find our education system in right now.”

“For too long, under the old order, selfish political interests — the unions — have been allowed to dominate the discussion when it comes to setting the course of education in our state,” said Maggart, the House GOP Caucus chairwoman.

“Instead of discussing actual classroom policy and curriculum, our local school boards have constantly been dragged into debates that serve to build union influence and power, not the children we are all supposed to be concerned with. This isn’t a mere political failure. It is a moral failing.”

Maggart said the Legislature now has the “unprecedented opportunity to institute a game-changing reform that will forever tilt the balance of education back to individual teachers and the students they serve.”

The quality of public education in Tennessee has over the years lagged in comparison to other states, she said, and the GOP’s sweeping electoral gains offer a fresh start at addressing the issues.

“Last fall, a historic opportunity to lead was ushered in by the voters. They gave us a governor committed to reform, not just in education but throughout government,” Maggart said. “They strengthened our conservative hold in the Senate and gave us a majority in the House that has never been seen before. Why? Because Tennesseans are fed up with politics as usual in Nashville.

“This is especially evident in education, where reforms are desperately needed for the long-term health of our state.”

Winters afterward reacted sharply to Maggart’s characterizations of unions as impediments to progress.

He asked for an apology. He didn’t get one.

“I am very concerned about the tone set by the sponsor of this bill,” said the union lobbyist. “She went out of her way to be negative toward every teacher in this state. She owes the teachers of this state an apology. She owes the Tennessee Education Association an apology.”

House Speaker Emeritus Jimmy Naifeh, D-Covington, also took exception to Maggart’s remarks, especially that the bill is designed to remove politics from education policy discussion.

“I’ve never seen anything more political in my years in this Legislature than what has gone on in the first few months, and I am sick and tired of it,” said the former archnemesis of Republicans in their bygone minority-caucus days. His comment drew applause from union supporters in the audience.

Said Maggart during a press conference after the hearing: “I don’t know what I have to apologize for.”

Democrats were left shaking their heads over much of the day’s collective-bargaining bill developments. They expressed anger and frustration over not having had more than a few hours to study the amendment to Maggart’s bill, offered by Rep. Bill Dunn, R-Knoxville.

Naifeh called Republicans’ parliamentary maneuvers to quickly amend the bill and move it along a “lot of garbage.”

Rep. Craig Fitzhugh, D-Ripley, the House Democratic leader, asked to delay the bill for a week to mull the amendment, a courtesy he said is typically standard when amendments are introduced on short notice.

“I seriously don’t know what the super big hurry is,” Fitzhugh said. “Apparently the governor has now embraced this bill. I did not know he had done that. And the speaker of the House has embraced this bill as well. Everybody else has seen it.”

Added Naifeh, “We’re making another unprecedented move toward rushing a bill through the subcommittee.

“We got this at 11:45 today,” he continued. “That’s when we first saw this amendment. I don’t see why we should take such hasty action.”

Republicans said they were prepared to take the time needed in the subcommittee meeting to go over the measure, item by item, so everyone could have their questions answered.

Not good enough, said Democrats, who argued that more time than a few hours was needed for everyone to fully digest the bill.

Rep. Lois DeBerry, D-Memphis, complained that people in the audience, including those who had come from other parts of the state, deserved the opportunity to at least have copies of the Dunn amendment in order to follow the action. Staffers then made numerous copies and distributed them to the audience.

Naifeh objected again about the rush to adopt the amendment to the bill. But in due course he capitulated. “Mr. Chairman, don’t delay our agony anymore. Let’s go ahead with this,” he said.

The measure passed on an 8-5 vote along party lines.

Haslam said in statement that the amended bill “gives superintendents greater flexibility in making personnel decisions and supports my central focus of doing what’s best for children in Tennessee classrooms.”

Speaker Harwell said she particularly likes the bill’s “flexibility to pay good teachers more money” and that it “allow locals the flexibility to pay teachers that are willing to teach in low-performing schools more money.” Harwell told TNReport earlier this week she’s hoping at least some House Democrats come around to supporting the education-reform push underway in the general Assembly.

Sen. Jack Johnson, R-Franklin, who is sponsoring the Senate’s bill to ban collective bargaining, said Wednesday afternoon he hadn’t had a chance to fully examine the House’s new version, nor had he consulted in its drafting.

“We’re still trying to get a handle on it,” he said. “I’m probably still inclined toward a complete repeal of (collective bargaining). We’ll probably be making some decisions in the next couple days.”

Johnson’s bill, SB113, is awaiting a floor vote in the Senate, which he said could happen as early as Monday night.

Mike Morrow, Andrea Zelinski, Reid Akins and Mark Engler contributed to this report.

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Education News Tax and Budget

Governor’s Budget Initially Well Received; State of the State Address Applauded

Gov. Bill Haslam extended a hand to the state’s teachers and called for a new way of governing in his first State of the State address Monday night, the same day he presented a $30.2 billion budget proposal to the Tennessee Legislature.

“Our current financial constraints are not a temporary condition,” Haslam said. “I think that what we are seeing in government today really is the new normal. Every government, ours included, will be forced to transform how it sets priorities and makes choices.”

Haslam said Tennesseans have told legislators to roll up their sleeves, find consensus on spending, educate children, encourage teachers and stimulate job creation. And they want their elected leaders to “do it now,” said the governor.

Haslam is in the first few weeks of an administration where the greatest amount of attention has been on education. His first legislative package since taking office includes reform in the teacher tenure process — as well as an embrace of charter schools.

With regard to public school teaching specifically, the governor wants to extend the probationary period for teacher tenure from three years to five. As a backdrop to that initiative, the Legislature is engaged in debate over proposals to do away with teachers’ collective bargaining rights.

Haslam stood at the podium in the House chamber on Monday as a Republican governor with historic Republican majorities in both the House and Senate. “We will no longer have more of the same kind of government in good times and less of it in hard times,” said the former Knoxville mayor. “We really do have to transform our government.”

He did not dwell on jobs in his speech — one of the main issues on which he campaigned. Although Haslam did reiterate his intention to ask the question “Is it good for jobs?” whenever any new regulation on business is proposed.

The governor is also proposing a $7 million appropriation for the Northwest Tennessee Regional Port Authority in Lake County that would provide a port accessible to major markets. He noted the site may receive a $13 million federal grant.

“At a time that the citizens in Lake and other surrounding counties in upper West Tennessee are dealing with the closure of the Goodyear tire plant, I am pleased to embrace this project as a stimulus for new jobs and new business investment,” Haslam said.

Haslam also announced a “new era of partnership,” proposing a $10 million grant for the Memphis Research Consortium, seeking collaboration in research from the University of Memphis, the University of Tennessee Health Science Center, St. Jude and other health care operations.

“The state’s great research institutions and universities such as Oak Ridge National Laboratories, Vanderbilt and our public universities should work together with the private sector to find ways to effectively translate the investments in ongoing research into businesses that create high-quality jobs,” he said.

But Haslam clearly had teachers on his mind. The treatment of teachers, particularly the threat to teachers’ union collective bargaining leverage, has been the source of some of the hottest rhetoric in the current legislative session. Haslam has tried to stay above the fray and has called on lawmakers to tone down some of the discussion.

“I want to be very clear. My goal is to treat teaching like the important and honorable profession that it is,” Haslam said. “My goal is to make Tennessee a place where great educators want to teach and feel rewarded and appreciated for their efforts.

“Because, at the end of the day, there is nothing that makes as much difference in a child’s academic progress as the teacher standing in front of the classroom.”

Democrats in the Legislature who spoke to TNReport following Haslam’s speech responded favorably to his remarks — some saying they’d like to see Republicans in the General Assembly act more like Haslam.

“I was really pleased to hear what he said about teachers,” said Sen. Jim Kyle, D-Memphis, the Senate Democratic leader. “I hope some of the legislators that have been bringing these bills attacking teachers heard the governor and will start focusing on education and quit focusing on labor relations.

“It does show that the good work we’ve done the last four years with the Bredesen administration has paid off because we have revenue to work with and we have our house in order. So I was pleased.”

Rep. Joe Towns, D-Memphis, a vocal opponent of GOP-led education reform and an early skeptic of Gov. Haslam’s expressions of bipartisan goodwill, offered generally favorable reviews of the governor’s speech Monday night.

“I appreciate the governor being logical in his presentation and not on the extreme that some of the folks in his party have been,” Towns said. “He’s obviously a very logical, very sensible man. But what we’re getting from the (Republican) party sounds extreme.

“My concern is to protect public education. Overall it gave me an insight into what kind of governor he possibly will be. I wish he could take his party and transfuse how he thinks to the folks who are leading his party, because they are way off on the wrong track.”

Rep. Mike Turner, D-Old Hickory, the Democratic Caucus chairman who elicited contempt from Republicans recently for publicly calling the GOP’s legislative agenda “terrorism against our teachers,” said he liked much of what he heard from Haslam.

“Overall, I was surprised and pleased with the governor’s budget,” Turner said. “The devil is in the details. How you get to some of the places he got to is what we’ll be analyzing.

“I disagree on the tenure, but he’s trying hard to reach out to the Democrats and include us in what he’s trying to do.”

Jerry Winters, chief lobbyist for the state teachers union, the Tennessee Education Association, gave Haslam good marks. “Generally, I was very pleased,” Winters said. “I think the governor set a very positive tone. He very clearly pointed out that the future of this state was tied to the quality of education in Tennessee.

“He also made very clear the role of teachers, and I think he showed some respect for teachers that’s not being shown by some individual legislators up here with very divisive bills,” added Winters. “We are willing to work with him on any of his education plans and look forward to continuing that discussion.”

GOP lawmakers offered little in the way of criticism.

Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris, R-Collierville, said the speech was “refreshing.”

“Realistic but refreshing,” Norris said. “I was very pleased with the responsible approach, across the board — forward thinking, upbeat. I think he appealed to everybody’s better nature in there, and I like it.”

Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville, said he’s hoping Haslam’s budget passes with bipartisan support.

TNGOP Chairman Chris Devaney issued a statement Monday night calling the governor’s budget “sensible.”

“Governor Haslam laid out a bold and responsible plan about how to reform the way our state government does business,” said Devaney. “This plan includes setting clear priorities in our state budget, encouraging entrepreneurship to create an environment for more good-paying jobs, and elevating student achievement in our public schools.”

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Education Featured News

Bill to End Collective Bargaining for Teachers Advances

Republicans bent on reining in the power of Tennessee teachers’ unions faced a congregation of indignation in the Senate Education Committee Wednesday.

But that didn’t stop them from moving a measure to dissolve mandatory collective bargaining in the state’s public school systems.

Senate Bill 113 passed out of the GOP-dominated committee on a 6-3 party-line vote, despite a sea of scowls and murmurs of disapproval from the standing-room only audience of unionized teachers who organized a day away from their classrooms to attend the hearing.

“I believe with all my heart that mandatory collective bargaining stifles teacher input,” said Sen. Jack Johnson, R-Franklin, who sponsored the bill. “Everything must pass through the funnel of a hyper-partisan, politically charged union whose primary objective is preservation of the union and its power, not the well-being of teachers and students.”

The Tennessee Education Association defended the current statutory arrangement, which requires that all schools with an organized labor union negotiate issues like teacher salary, working conditions, fringe benefits and grievance procedures with the union.

The TEA, with its 52,000 members, says erasing collective bargaining processes would create disarray.

“It does away with this process, and what you’re going to have is chaos,” TEA chief lobbyist Jerry Winters told committee members. “You may not like the TEA, and you may not like teacher unions, but to just say that every individual person is going to represent his or herself is just opening this process to something I don’t think anybody in this room really wants. People need a collective voice to express their concerns.”

TEA officials estimate that as many as 400 of their member teachers took a personal day off to travel to the Capitol and voice their concerns to state lawmakers. An occasional collective sigh could be heard inside the packed hearing room when TEA members disagreed with something they heard. Others gathered around a large TV outside the committee room cheered when Democrats or union officials spoke.

With robust Republican majorities in both chambers, GOP lawmakers are confident other bills in their package targeting the union’s influence will move in a deliberate fashion through the legislative process. Another measure would take away the TEA’s ability to appoint people to the Tennessee Consolidated Retirement System, which manages teachers’ pensions, and to the state’s financial literacy commission’s board of directors. Under both bills, the speakers in the House and Senate would make those selections.

Other measures seek to limit unions’ political muscle. One bill would ban public employees from directing part of their paycheck, “by payroll deduction or otherwise,” to “any membership organization which engages, directly or indirectly, in political activity.” Another would prohibit labor organizations from making campaign contributions through a political action committee.

Gov. Bill Haslam furthermore is expected to announce a handful of education reforms of his own Thursday, the last day to introduce new bills. It’s unclear what those proposals will look like, although Haslam has indicated he’s interested in changing teacher tenure rules and lifting the cap on charter schools, two reforms TEA has also fought for years.

Senate Bill 113 still has a long way to go before it can become law. But if it does, here is what it would change:

  • The 1978 Education Professional Negotiations Act, which stipulates the current rules for collective bargaining, would be erased from the law books.
  • School districts with an organized union would no longer be required to negotiate with the union on labor contracts. However, school boards would have the option to negotiate with them, anyway.
  • Educators could still belong to a teacher’s union.
  • Teachers would still have a right to a labor strike as a member of an organized union, and the state’ existing rules for intervention and possible district-driven punishments would also remain intact.
  • Existing teacher labor contracts would go untouched. Once those agreements expire, the district would not be required to use the union to negotiate a new contract.
  • Each district would have to decide on its own how to approach labor contracts. They could keep the union set up, use school superintendents to reach agreements with individual teachers, have the local school board negotiate one-on-one with each educator or create a unique system from scratch.

According to the Tennessee School Boards Association, which authored the bill, 91 Tennessee school systems are currently mandated to hash out teacher contracts with a local labor union. Another 45 systems do not negotiate with unions because there is no established organized labor union in the district.

While the proposal would apply to all teachers’ unions, TEA officials contend stripping unions of their negotiating ability is really political payback for their not coughing up enough money to Republicans in the last election.

“That disgusts me,” said Sen. Andy Berke, a Chattanooga Democrat who tried to rally opposition to the bill on the committee floor and linked those politics to the legislation. “It’s not about kids. It’s not about collaboration. It’s not about bipartisanship. I don’t think it’s really about education.”