published Monday, February 21st, 2011

McCormick seeks input on teacher bargaining

NASHVILLE — While Senate Republicans largely support a statewide law banning collective bargaining for teachers, some of their House counterparts are talking about leaving the decision in local government hands.

"There are members in our caucus who would be more comfortable with the bill if there were some local options there," said House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga. He nonetheless called the bill a "legitimate idea and something that needs to be considered."

Some school boards, McCormick said, "have had a very bad experience. In certain parts of the state, like Chattanooga, we've had a better experience."

"I expect to see some kind of a compromise amendment that would allow local school boards and local governments to decide whether or not it would be in their best interests to negotiate," he said.

In recent days, fights over ending mandatory collective bargaining have started boiling over in Tennessee and several other states. One of those is Wisconsin, where thousands of teachers have protested outside the Capitol and Democrats walked out of the Legislature to try to stall Republican action.

The 52,000-member Tennessee Education Association opposes a bill by Sen. Jack Johnson, R-Brentwood, that would end mandatory collective bargaining for teachers.

Last week, more than 200 TEA members packed a Senate hearing room and a nearby hallway as the Republican-controlled Senate Education Committee debated Johnson's bill.

Many conservative groups support the measure; dozens of tea party and other conservative activists also were at the hearing.

The bill passed 6-3.

Under a 1978 law, school boards must negotiate with teachers unions in districts where most educators have voted to let groups represent them.

Tennessee has collective bargaining in 92 of 136 districts, including Hamilton County.

Republicans have a 20-13 majority in the Senate. They have a 64-34 edge in the House, with one independent.

The Tennessee Education Association's chief lobbyist, Jerry Winters, said that while he is "glad" to hear House members are considering an alternative to the Senate bill, he cautioned that negotiations are "a two-way street."

"I can't imagine that we would want to allow a school board to unilaterally decide whether or not they wanted to talk with teachers," Winters said. "Obviously we're willing to sit down and talk about this whole [House] movement."

But he noted "it sounds like it's locking the teachers out on the front end."

Southeast Tennessee lawmakers had mixed views on the legislation, and they didn't break down along precise party lines.

Sen. Mike Bell, R-Riceville, said he was familiar with discussions about letting local governments and school boards decide.

"I'd like to see the House Education Committee pick it up first and see what's possible," Bell said. "Sometimes legislation is not what everybody wants but what's possible."

In earlier interviews, Reps. Vince Dean, R-East Ridge, and Richard Floyd, R-Chattanooga, said they weren't familiar with Johnson's bill. It is sponsored in the House by Republican Caucus Chairman Debra Maggart, R-Hendersonville.

"I certainly support the premise," Floyd said. "I've been on both sides of collective bargaining."

Rep. Tommie Brown, D-Chattanooga, said efforts to strip the TEA of collective bargaining rights and other GOP bills, including eliminating payroll deductions for teachers' dues, are "part of the national agenda to break the back of the National Education Association."

Rep. JoAnne Favors, D-Chattanooga, voiced similar views.

"I think there's a national movement to eliminate school associations," she said. "All of this, I feel, is part of the movement to privatize education."

Sen. Andy Berke, D-Chattanooga, who sits on the Senate Education Committee, said last week the bill detracts from efforts to advance education.

Berke also said he was disgusted to hear that one of the bill's House sponsors last fall pressured TEA to split campaign contributions evenly between Republicans and Democrats.

Sen. Bo Watson, R-Hixson, predicted the Senate bill will pass on the floor. He noted that teachers are the only group with collective bargaining rights in Tennessee.

He rejected TEA charges that the bill amounts to political "payback." Similar legislation introduced in the past failed to get anywhere when Democrats had control, he said.

"We should debate just the whole idea of government unions anyway -- the idea that people who hire you, who are the electors, then sit down with you [school board] to negotiate their deal," Watson said. "Obviously you're going to do everything to keep them happy. I just have a fundamental issue with government unions. I think they're inherently conflicted."

about Andy Sher...

Andy Sher is a Nashville-based staff writer covering Tennessee state government and politics for the Times Free Press. A Washington correspondent from 1999-2005 for the Times Free Press, Andy previously headed up state Capitol coverage for The Chattanooga Times, worked as a state Capitol reporter for The Nashville Banner and was a contributor to The Tennessee Journal, among other publications. Andy worked for 17 years at The Chattanooga Times covering police, health care, county government, ...

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Hermionethecat said...

I take issue with Sen. Jackson's rhetoric about ending "mandatory collective bargaining." If it were mandatory, every district in Tennessee would be required to negotiate with the teachers. Of course this is not the case as teachers in 92 of 136 districts have chosen to bargain; the rest do not do so. What Jackson is really opposed to is allowing teachers to have any choice in the matter. School reform is something that should be done with teachers, not to them. Progressive districts like Hamilton County recognize this, yet Jackson's bill would not allow Hamilton County or any other district to continue to negotiate with the majority representative of the teachers. So much for local control.

February 21, 2011 at 10:21 a.m.
jpo3136 said...

The compromise amendment, mentioned by State Representative McCormick, above, would allow Republican politicians to pander to their party for ad money while also creating a loophole large enough to avoid actually doing anything locally.

For this reason, I expect that will be implemented.

Bashing teachers to get ad money. That's not how we attract high-tech jobs around here.

Please discourage our politicians from embarrassing us like this in the future. Get it together. We cannot walk around acting like we're trying to sell fans at the Scope Monkey Trial. We cannot be represented by people who are carrying out public relations campaigns deliberately designed to make us look dumb by insulting the smart people in our community.

Despite our past successes in looking dumb, that path hasn't done our community much good. We need to continue doing what works, which includes supporting teachers.

We won't bother discussing at length just how preposterous it is that the school board would, check the story, negotiate with hundreds of teachers individually. What are they to do under that plan? Get hundreds of teachers to go to a job interview with a number two pencil and fill out a Scan-Tron card with their answers?

"Okay, all 250 applicants here for this one school board meeting slash mass interview: pick up your pencil and open the interview question folder . . ."

There really are job interviews that are run that way. Is that what we want in trying to pick a teacher? A multiple-guess, true-false employment test?

What alternatives would be presented under this Republican plan, besides mass interviews?

How would they pay for it? With a new, Republican-created Teacher Job Interview Support Tax?

As a practical matter, the plan the Republicans are proposing does not sound executable. While we can't cover all of the ideas about hiring teachers here, outright outlawing an option with demonstrated practical success does not sound like a reasonable approach to efficient government.

It's not a good idea to ignore what works and install an unfunded procedural fantasy as policy.

We don't need to limit our ability to recruit top talent with some dickering over union or non-union. We need teachers who can teach. Collective bargaining does not exclude skilled workers. On the contrary, teachers unions have consistently provided us with skilled teachers who have done well.

We should stop beating up on the public image of schoolteachers. Politicians need to come up with a better plan besides telling us all that they are going to try to do the adult equivalent of outlawing homework. Leave the teachers alone. Don't make them do extra word problems with politicians.

Support the teachers and drop this before it goes much further.

February 22, 2011 at 4:49 a.m.
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