published Tuesday, March 22nd, 2011

Haslam-Ramsey gap widens on teachers’ unions

NASHVILLE — The gap widened Monday between Republican Gov. Bill Haslam and Republican Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey on banning collective bargaining by teachers even as tea party activists resumed their attacks on the governor and legislative Republicans who don’t back full repeal.

In a posting on his Facebook page, Haslam, who supports a House compromise on teachers’ ability to negotiate with school boards, cited Republican and Democratic “bipartisan” cooperation last year in pursuing changes in state law.

Those enabled Tennessee to qualify for a $500 million federal Race to the Top grant, Haslam argued in a posting borrowed from the governor’s opinion piece, which appeared Sunday in some state newspapers.

“Somewhere along the way since then, a partisan tone emerged,” Haslam wrote, “There will be disagreements as the details are worked out, but the issues that divide us cannot be allowed to sidetrack the education reform path that we are on.”

Haslam is pushing for tougher teacher tenure laws and making it easier to create and attend charter schools. Both bills are up in House committees today and Wednesday, respectively.

Ramsey, who is fighting to strip teachers of their collective bargaining rights, subsequently declared Haslam’s analysis is “somewhat misleading” and also suggested the relative inexperience of the governor, who only took office in January, is coming into play on the teachers’ union.

Republican and Democratic lawmakers last year wanted the Race to the Top changes, which tied teacher evaluations to student performance, to “pass for completely different reasons,” Ramsey argued.

Republicans voted for it “because they saw it as a true opportunity to change education policy and tie teacher evaluations to test scores, something we promoted for years,” he said.

But Democrats voted for it, Ramsey said, because “it was their Democratic governor friend [Phil Bredesen] proposing it. And No. 2, they saw it was a way to get $500 million of federal money into the education system. To say there was a bipartisan cooperation in Race to the Top is somewhat misleading because the cooperation was on the end result, not the process to get it there.”

With regard to efforts to strip the 52,000-member Tennessee Education Association of its collective bargaining rights, Ramsey said “there is nothing more sacred” to Democrats than “union organizations.”

He said a “classic” philosophical argument is playing out over “whether labor unions are productive to education or actually a hindrance.”

Asked why he thinks Haslam has not joined in, Ramsey said, “that’s because I think he is new on the job. And he hasn’t lived through what I have lived through in my 19 years in the Legislature. That’s not a criticism. That’s a fact. I’ve seen the teachers’ union oppose even the most commonsense reforms because they saw it as a threat.”

Haslam has thrown his support behind House Speaker Beth Harwell, R-Nashville, and House leaders who cobbled together a compromise that restricts teachers’ collective bargaining rights but does not do away with them entirely.

He did not mention collective bargaining in his op-ed piece but alluded to it several times, noting “our local school boards are in the best position to determine how to work with teachers in setting base pay and benefits.”

The compromise allows that but excludes merit pay and differential pay from negotiations.

Also on Monday, Tennessee Tea Party leaders called on supporters to put pressure on 20 House Republicans they contend are “waffling” on the collective bargaining bill.

They also lashed out at Haslam and Harwell, noting in an emailed alert/newsletter that Harwell is “in lockstep with Governor Haslam, who has proved himself weak on a variety of issues confronting our state.”

Tennessee Tea Party leaders said they had been told 47 House Republicans support the complete ban. The bill needs 50 votes to pass. There are 64 House Republicans, 34 Democrats and one independent. Democrats all appear opposed to the ban.

Among those listed as “waffling” were Rep. Richard Floyd, R-Chattanooga, and Rep. Vince Dean, R-East Ridge.

“I don’t know where they got their information,” said Floyd. “Listen, I support the Senate bill that’s out there.”

Dean noted he is a sponsor of the House version of the bill.

“They [tea party leaders] are entitled to their opinions,” he said. “As far as I can recall — and I think that I would — I haven’t cast a vote yet. I don’t know how I’m waffling on anything.”

Contact staff writer Andy Sher at asher@timesfreepress.com or 615-255-0550.

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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