NASHVILLE - Gov. Bill Haslam disputes assertions by the Tennessee Education Association's president that teachers feel "totally demoralized and disrespected" because of new legislation such as the bill that eliminates educators' collective bargaining powers.
Speaking to reporters on Wednesday, Haslam, who plans to sign the collective bargaining bill into law, said a state Education Department-sponsored survey "didn't show that at all."
The Tennessee Teaching, Leading and Learning Survey, which was conducted by the state Education Department, gave teachers and other certificated school personnel "a chance to give feedback on a lot of different issues," the governor said.
"Can morale be better? You bet," Haslam said. "But it did not show a serious morale issue at all for Tennessee teachers."
An examination of the survey, results of which were announced May 3, shows educators were asked dozens of questions, including a number of them about "school leadership." For example, three out of four teacher surveyed said they agreed or strongly agreed that "there is an atmosphere of trust and mutual respect."
But Tennessee Education Association lobbyist Jerry Winters said the survey, co-sponsored by TEA, dealt with teachers' attitudes toward individual school governance.
No questions were asked about the union-busting legislation, he said.
"[It] was primarily an assessment of a school's climate and the relationship with the building administrator," Winters said. "It also assessed teachers' opinions around several different teaching and learning conditions. This survey had very little to do with relations between teachers and their school board."
Winters said he "would strongly maintain that teacher morale is at an all-time low largely because of the unrelenting attacks on teachers by the majority in this Legislature."
If Haslam disagrees, "he should go talk with a number of teachers across the state and see how they really feel," Winters said. "If he thinks they are not upset by the treatment they have received over the past five months, I truly believe he is going to be very surprised."
In response, Haslam spokesman David Smith said that the governor "has been back and forth across the state talking to teachers and hearing their feedback throughout this process, and he will continue to do so."
The collective bargaining bill abolishes the 1978 Education Professional Negotiations Act and replaces it with a process called "collaborative bargaining." As outlined in the bill, school boards would engage in "collaborative conferencing" with teacher representatives if teacher groups vote for such recognition. While boards would be required to engage in discussions, they are not obligated to adopt any agreement.
The bill was pushed by Republican leaders in the GOP-controlled Senate and House. Haslam, a Republican, initially appeared unenthusiastic about the bill, saying it was not one of his education priorities.
He later endorsed a version that limited but did not eliminate collective bargaining. Eventually, he said he would go along with the conferencing bill and will sign it.