published Sunday, June 19th, 2011

Hamilton teachers protected until ’14

Rick Smith, superintendent for Hamilton County Schools, discusses education in his office.
Rick Smith, superintendent for Hamilton County Schools, discusses education in his office.
Photo by Jake Daniels.

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Teachers in Hamilton County will see their benefits and pay protected for at least three more years despite a new state law that supersedes collective bargaining requirements that had been in place for 33 years.

Of 91 school districts with collective bargaining contracts, more than 30 will be stripped of their negotiation powers July 1. Others will follow as their county contracts expire. Forty-five districts don’t have union agreements.

The change means teachers could lose professional leave time, benefits and notification of transfers to new jobs. Teachers also fear they will lose the right to be heard on such issues as extending the school year.

“There won’t be any more teacher input,” said Rhonda Catanzaro, liaison between the Tennessee Education Association and its affiliate, the Hamilton County Education Association. “It’s a very trying time for teachers in Tennessee right now.”

But the situation in Hamilton County is different, at least for now: The HCEA ratified a three-year contract with the county just before the legal requirements for collective bargaining were changed.

HCEA representatives say the recently approved pact will give Hamilton County teachers full protections for longer than most.

“We are very fortunate,” said Catanzaro. “The collaborative effort in Hamilton County continued regardless of what was happening in Nashville.”

Many say curbing union power in local schools is an essential step in implementing education reforms and making teachers more accountable for learning outcomes.

Unions have had too much sway over teachers and boards of education, said Hamilton County school board member Rhonda Thurman.

Contracts have limited schools from things as simple as being able to put information in teachers’ mailboxes or pin notices on teacher bulletin boards, she said.

“I wish we had held out,” Thurman said. “I am tired of being held hostage.”

Since the collective bargaining law was approved in 1978, proponents have argued that the measure improved state education by empowering teachers. The law required school boards to bargain in districts where most teachers had organized.

Thanks to its provisions, over the years teachers have negotiated everything from planning time, textbooks and professional leave to school safety issues and air conditioning in the classroom, along with higher pay and benefits, officials said.

But lawmakers gutted the law last session in an effort spearheaded by Republican leadership. Instead, school boards now are required to meet with teacher representatives on limited topics such as some wage and benefit issues. But local school boards are under no obligation to enter such agreements.

“It’s the difference in feeling respect and value. Collective bargaining is respect,” Catanzaro said. “Members of the Legislature have decided that teachers don’t need a say in that. They say a school board knows what is best in education.”

Local union officials say they hope the state’s new law will be changed — either overturned in the court system or politically — before the latest contract between teachers and the Hamilton County school system expires in October 2014.

Arrangements over pay and working conditions remain consistent in the school board’s latest contract with HCEA. Teachers will receive a state-mandated 1.6 percent salary increase effective July 1. It will be the first teacher raise since 2007.

According to the Hamilton County Department of Education website, teacher salaries range from a base of $33,659 for a new teacher with a bachelor’s degree to $59,062 for a teacher with 25 years’ experience and a doctorate.

The 1.6 percent raise will mean an additional $538 to $945 more per year.

However, that will be offset by an increase in health insurance premiums, which will rise from about $25 a month to $100 for an individual.

The school system has more than 6,000 employees, and about 4,000 of them participate in the health insurance program, officials said.

School board members complained that HCEA’s choice of plan was too expensive with the system facing a $14.4 million deficit, but the union didn’t want to move to a new insurer, officials said.

Interim School Superintendent Rick Smith said the school board agreed to delay the implementation of the new premium costs for two months into the school year to help teachers with the transition.

And school board members say, contract or no contract, there is no plan to lower teachers’ wages.

“It looks like the other counties around the state [where teachers don’t have contracts], the teachers fare just as well,” Thurman said. “There are no need to cut pay or benefits.”

about Joan Garrett McClane...

Joan Garrett McClane has been a staff writer for the Times Free Press since August 2007. Before becoming a general assignment writer for the paper, she wrote about business, higher education and the court systems. She grew up the oldest of five sisters near Birmingham, Ala., and graduated with a master's and bachelor's degrees in journalism from the University of Alabama. Before landing her first full-time job as a reporter at the Times Free Press, ...

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Selah said...

Teachers stand up for yourselves in 2012!!! Remember what has and is taking place...

June 19, 2011 at 1:20 a.m.
rolando said...

“Members of the Legislature have decided that...a school board knows what is best in education.”

So opines Catanzaro, your typical union hack-cum-community organizer. She would have it read that the union knows what is best in education. As wildman said -- and we agree on this at least -- "and look at where our schools rank."

The TEA/HCEA unions have had the run of our schools for decades...now it is time for their leadership to go to work for a change instead of living off the taxpayers.

With luck and the voting booth, we will destroy the national unions and their bloodsucking leadership, all the while watching the quality of education rise in our schools.

June 19, 2011 at 7:42 a.m.
HiDef said...

@wildman-Do you blame unions for the grammatical error in your post too? Disregard this if it was intentional...

June 19, 2011 at 9:39 a.m.
Humphrey said...

The tfp report card shows only the overall scores. Look at the value added scores instead, it is more informative because it takes in to consideration change over time and how well children are doing compared to how well they were doing in the past, e.g., improvement or lack thereof. Look here https://tvaas.sas.com/trend/TrendAnalysis.jsp for example, in the elementary school rankings lookout mt. and thrasher overall score the highest. But the trend data is not as strong - there is little improvement across 3rd-4th-5th grade, or even negative. What I take from that is that the kids in those schools STARTED off doing better in reading and math than the kids in the other schools. It isn't that these schools are doing a better job in improving the kids reading or math (in fact, other schools show more improvement but overall lower scores) it is that the kids started off doing better. In other words, parents and home environments and not the schools are the reason behind those higher scores on the mountains.

June 19, 2011 at 10:02 a.m.

Even without a union teachers do have a say, it is called voting. This event could make "local" teachers associations stronger.

June 19, 2011 at 2:05 p.m.
NoMyth said...

School systems simply should not hire teachers that have no other experience in life. There are plenty of overqualified mid-career and late-career citizens, with real-world experience, that would be best-suited to fill the ranks of our teaching corps. The current system promotes recruitment of relatively non-intellectual, unmotivated, college grads, with little or no alternatives for a career path, to enter into teaching and then cling on for dear life to the benefits that accrue with seniority. There should be no greater benefits in taxpayer funded jobs for having one year of 'tenure' or 25 years of 'tenure'. And, by no means, should anyone with more experience be protected from layoffs compared to those with less experience. They system is dramatically out of whack and most other developed nations have passed us by a long time ago.

June 19, 2011 at 2:39 p.m.
Humphrey said...

I disagree. I believe that teaching is a serious profession and that teachers should receive specialized training. I do not agree with the idea that anyone with some life experience cold walk in and be a successful teacher.

June 19, 2011 at 2:54 p.m.
AlmostAmanda said...

There are plenty of overqualified mid-career and late-career citizens, with real-world experience, that would be best-suited to fill the ranks of our teaching corps.

Based on what? Children are not assembly-line products. Unlike a lazy or low-performing employee, you can't fire the students who don't want to do anything. You can't make parents care or change a student's home environment. And as a teacher, you are required to follow countless laws, mandates, and regulations that have been pushed by people with no classroom experience whatsoever - even if you know it is not right for your kids. Running a business is very different from running a classroom. I have came into teaching with a 10-year business background and have been successful, but I have seen an equal number of teachers with even stronger business backgrounds and naive and enthusiastic college graduates fail and succeed. Neither background is an guaranteed recipe for success.

There are so many factors that go into a child's education, and it is ridiculous to assume that teachers' unions are entirely to blame for all educational woes. The student, the teachers, the parents, and all DOEs play a part in a child's academic success, yet only the teacher is held accountable. I will fully agree that there are some crappy teachers, but I have yet to hear of an example of a union keeping a teacher in position, nor have I encountered one in the years I've taught. Most of the bad teachers I know are related to or close friends with someone in administration, at HCDE, the TN Dept. of Ed., or have weak administrators who do not keep good enough records to remove the teacher after a due process hearing. HCDE needs to grow a backbone, stand up to lazy principals and toss then ones that are no good. Good teachers want them gone as much as you do.

So many people complain that the US is behind in education. It's true, but for a lot of reasons. Many of the countries we are compared to don't educate all children. Some have a very different cultural view of education. Many have a much stronger social support system for young people, including free child care, preschool, and medical care that lessens the likelihood that a child will begin their formal education at a disadvantage. Google Finland - which has been #1 for years - and you will see that there are a number of reasons they are ahead - even with a fully unionized teaching force.

June 19, 2011 at 9:45 p.m.
Selah said...

Oneparticularharbor...you are right...exercise the vote...we made a mistake this time but that's politics...people say all the right things until they get into office and we see the TRUTH...once we see the TRUTH we vote again and again until WE THE PEOPLE are satisfied...

The school system is not full of poor teachers...the school are FULL of retalitory, bullying, self-serving leaders who are weak. A poor teacher can't keep their jobs unless you have a self-serving leader who allows it. A principal has the right to bring a teacher in front of the school board got FIRING. The principal must have the BALLS and DOCUMENTATION to make it happen. Most of the time good teachers are ran out b/c of speaking up against leaders for their poor decisions and bullying tactics.

TEACHERS...increase your UNION membership so you can see the change you want within the schools. Schools have been ran too long by inapt leadership and people who do not have a vested interest in kids. TEACHERS and UNIONs QUIT letting other govt. leaders and Central Office personnel make decisions regarding education. START taking the lead and come up with your own evaluation standards and testing...make the state and federal govt. take note of the intelligence of the EDUCATIONAL community.

June 19, 2011 at 11:17 p.m.
Selah said...

Sunday's Chatt. Times Free Press...JOB Posting... Director of Schools The Rogersville City Board of Education located in Rogersville, TN. is seeking Highly Qualified and MOtivated CANDIDATES for the position of Diurector of Schools. The person chosen by the Board of Education for the position will fill the vacancy oin AUGUST 1, 2011....... WHAT is Hamilton County looking for??? Control??? or Highly Qualified and Motivated???

June 20, 2011 at 2:47 a.m.
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