Panel OKs teacher bargaining restrictions

Panel OKs teacher bargaining restrictions

March 17th, 2011 by Andy Sher in News

NASHVILLE - The Republican-controlled House Education Subcommittee moved Wednesday to restrict collective bargaining rights for teachers.

But members adopted a compromise backed by Republican Gov. Bill Haslam that stops considerably short of Senate Republican leaders' proposal to completely ban negotiations by teachers' unions with local school boards.

Subcommittee members voted 8-5 along partisan lines to change the bill by Rep. Debra Maggart, R-Hendersonville, which originally mirrored Senate Republican attempts to strip Tennessee Education Association affiliates from being able to bargain collectively.

Teachers' unions still could negotiate basic pay and fringe benefits, but the compromise blocks them from negotiating with school boards over merit pay and similar compensation incentives.

Other provisions remove principals, assistant principals and supervisors from the bargaining unit. School boards would no longer be required to negotiate over automatic payroll deductions for Tennessee Education Association dues. And it would make it easier for teachers to move to try and decertify local unions.

The Tennessee Education Association has charged the measure amounts to "political payback" by some Republican leaders because the union strongly backed Democrats last fall.

Maggart, the House Republican Caucus chairman, rejected that. She said Republicans, who won total control of the General Assembly as well as the governor's mansion last fall, now have "an essential moment" to rescue education from its "unimaginative doldrums."

But she lashed out at the TEA, saying, "for too long, under the old order, selfish political interests - unions - have been allowed to dominate the discussion when it comes to setting the course of education in our state."

Democrats on the House subcommittee complained they only got to see the compromise hours before the subcommittee met.

After unsuccessfully seeking to delay the bill for a week, former House Speaker Jimmy Naifeh, D-Covington, said, "Don't delay our agony. Go ahead" and vote. Republicans did, first adopting the compromise, backed by Haslam and House Speaker Beth Harwell, R-Nashville, on a 8-5 vote, then moving the bill to full committee.

The 52,000-member Tennessee Education Association's chief lobbyist, Jerry Winters, later told reporters he was "very concerned" about Maggart's tone and said "she went out of her way to be negative to every teacher in this state."

He demanded she apologize, noting teachers and the association were "more than cooperative" last year in agreeing to changes that enabled Tennessee to win a $500 million federal Race to the Top grant.

As far as the amendment, offered by former House Republican Leader Bill Dunn, of Knoxville, Winters said, "I'm very appreciative of the fact that it's not a repeal. That's huge progress."

He said the teachers' group still needed to examine the amendment more closely. But he said he was "very pleased" that the Republican Caucus decided "not to proceed with the repeal and we consider that some sort of a victory without seeing the specifics."

Winters said the bill protects the negotiation process.

For weeks, Haslam has said he was neutral on the Senate version of the bill, saying he preferred to focus on his own proposals of toughening teacher tenure and expanding use of charter schools.

But in recent days he had voiced interest in House efforts to find a compromise. In a statement issued after the vote, Haslam said he is in full support of the compromise.

It gives superintendents "great flexibility in making personnel decisions and supports my central focus of doing what's best for children in Tennessee classrooms," Haslam said. "This legislation doesn't change the fact that teachers will continue to have a voice on issues like pay and benefits."

Harwell called the amended measure a "good bill for teachers in this state." She acknowledged it is "not as good a piece of legislation for the TEA."

Sandy Hughes, an Ooltewah High School Latin and French teacher, watched the proceedings and called developments "tragic" for teachers.

"There's been no forethought. They haven't looked at the big picture," she said.

The hearing proceeded calmly under heavy security although teachers voiced their displeasure with aspects of the bill.

That contrasted to Tuesday when seven youthful protesters, including a Chattanooga woman, disrupted a Senate committee hearing as it prepared to hear several bills targeting unions in general. They were dragged off by state troopers and charged with disorderly conduct and resisting arrest.