Standing-room-only crowd at legislative forum includes many teachers

03/02/2013 3:42 PM

08/06/2014 12:00 AM

More than 300 people, many of them teachers, attended a South-Central Kansas Legislative Delegation forum Saturday to share concerns about a variety of issues and pending bills in the Kansas Legislature, including collective bargaining, school funding, Medicaid and a proposal for the state to take over the Kansas Turnpike.

The forum, which was standing room only, was held at the National Center for Aviation Training. It is the first of three forums to be held in the next two months.

Members of the Kansas House of Representatives and the Senate from south-central Kansas participated in the event, which was moderated by Sen. Oletha Faust-Goudeau, D-Wichita, chair of the delegation.

Many attendees voiced concern over a variety of proposals that they say would ultimately hurt teachers and students.

Teachers raised concerns about one proposal that, if passed, would overhaul collective bargaining for public employees, such as teachers, police and firefighters.

Under the legislation, teachers could negotiate contracts individually with local school districts, although some issues would be deemed non-negotiable.

The change is an attack on collective bargaining, Randy Mousley, president of United Teachers of Wichita, said after the forum. The union represents about 4,000 Wichita teachers.

“Collective bargaining has been effective in this state for 40 years,” Mousley said.

Rep. Nile Dillmore, D-Wichita, said he is committed to ensuring that collective bargaining rights won’t be interfered with by legislators.

The current statutes are working well, he said.

Rep. Gene Suellentrop, R-Wichita, vice chairman of the House Commerce, Labor and Economic Development Committee, said the issue has been distorted.

“There are no smoke-filled rooms, no closed-door meetings,” Suellentrop said.

Suellentrop said after the forum that the change, however, would benefit teachers.

School boards need more flexibility and local control to adjust to changes, Suellentrop said.

The issue will be discussed at 1:30 p.m. Wednesday by the Commerce and Labor committee. The public is invited.

Another issue facing teachers is whether public employees can have money deducted from their paychecks for union dues and political action.

Some teachers said they oppose a proposal that would bar the automatic, voluntary deductions from teachers’ and government workers’ paychecks.

Natalie Aramburu, a teacher at Truesdell Middle School, received a standing ovation after telling legislators that she is concerned about that potential ban.

“I did not give up my private citizen rights when I became a teacher,” Aramburu said. “It’s my money. I earned it.”

She, not the state, should be the one to decide what can be deducted from her paycheck, she said.

Supporters of the legislation say that it’s not the state’s role to deduct that money, and that public employees can still donate money to the groups.

One speaker, who said she works for the Kansas Department for Children and Families, said she has not had a pay raise in eight years.

Case loads have doubled, and the Wichita office has not been fully staffed for the last two years, she said.

She is concerned about an effort to privatize the department.

“What have state employees done that we deserve this type of treatment?” she asked legislators.

One legislator said it was the first time he’d heard about the effort to privatize, but that he would check into it.

Attendee Bonita Gooch raised concerns about payday loans, which she called “devastating” to the community, sales taxes on food and the “overincarceration of the jail system.”

A second public forum is scheduled for 9 to 11 a.m. March 23 at Wichita State University’s Hughes Metropolitan Complex at 29th Street North and Oliver. The third forum is scheduled for 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. May 6 at Derby City Hall, 611 Mulberry Road in Derby.

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