Hamilton County's teachers union targets school boards

Hamilton County's teachers union targets school boards

December 13th, 2011 by Kevin Hardy in News

Sandy Hughes, president of the Hamilton County Education Association

Photo by Monira Al-Haroun

POLL: Should only former teachers or school administrators be allowed to run for school board seats?

Document: TEA Legislative Proposal

TEA Legislative Proposal

The leader of Hamilton County's teachers union wants only those who have worked in the education field to serve on state and local school boards.

That's among several ideas pitched by Sandy Hughes, president of the Hamilton County Education Association, for the upcoming state legislative session. She's also hoping the Tennessee General Assembly will put the brakes on some of last year's education reform measures.

When it comes to the qualifications to serve on school boards, Hughes said she's most concerned about state school board members -- who are appointed -- because they set so much of the state's educational rules and regulations. But local school boards -- whose members are picked by voters -- could toughen their qualifications, too, she said.

"I really believe both local and state school board members should have some experience in education besides having just gone to school sometime in the past because education is so complex."

She proposes that to qualify for a school board post a candidate must have been a teacher, administrator or school employee.

The idea wasn't immediately popular.

Though he's heard similar proposals before, Sen. Bo Watson, R-Hixson, said he doesn't think the idea will get much support in the statehouse.

"The school board is a local entity and should be made up of citizens of diverse backgrounds," he said. "It should not be limited to only those in education."

Hamilton County Board of Education member Rhonda Thurman said the voters get to decide what kind of background they want from school board members.

"You elect who the people want," she said. "If they're educators, fine. If they're not, fine."

Thurman, who's a hair stylist, said the board's diverse makeup is an asset in decision making.

Joe Galloway, a retired teacher and administrator with 35 years of experience, said he finds institutional knowledge to be helpful in doing board business.

"I would tend to think that it would be valuable to be in education to be on the school board," Galloway said, "but I don't know that it should be a requirement."

He said he encourages former school personnel to run for school board, but he said he also sees the value in having people from other backgrounds, such as business, on the board. He pointed to board member Linda Mosley, chairwoman of the finance committee, who works in the banking industry.

"I think there's a good combination of people with different backgrounds working together," he said.

Legislative priorities

On the state level, the Tennessee Education Association, the state's largest teachers union, has drafted a list containing dozens of legislative proposals. It asks for higher teacher salaries, programs to eliminate school violence, daily teacher planning time, enhancing teacher retirement benefits and full funding of the state's higher education formula, among other items. HCEA is a local affiliate of the TEA.

Locally, Hughes said she'd like to see the legislature be more careful in opening the door for charter and virtual schools, both of which recently were expanded under Tennessee law. She also hopes to see the legislature repeal the Collaborative Conferencing Act, which stripped unions of negotiating powers.

Tennessee State Sen. Bo Watson

Photo by Patrick Smith/Times Free Press.

Hughes said changes in teacher tenure laws were unnecessary because tenure has never ensured a teacher's job, just a teacher's right to due process. She said principals have always been responsible for dismissing poor teachers.

"It's not hard to fire a teacher," she said. "But we don't want to make it so easy that you fire a teacher just because you don't like that person."

Watson said he doesn't think the legislature has much interest in repealing its recent changes to educational law, though some items may need to be tweaked.

"I don't see us backtracking on any of the education reforms that we passed in the last couple of years," Watson said. "I see us continuing to refine and perhaps improve on some of those reforms."

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