Politics & Government

Joint Education Committee approves introduction of 2 bills based on K-12 commission’s recommendations

The K-12 Student Performance and Efficiency Commission chairman, Sam Williams, left, a Wichita businessman and mayoral candidate, presents the commission’s report to the joint House and Senate Education committee Wednesday, Jan. 14, 2015, at the Statehouse in Topeka.
The K-12 Student Performance and Efficiency Commission chairman, Sam Williams, left, a Wichita businessman and mayoral candidate, presents the commission’s report to the joint House and Senate Education committee Wednesday, Jan. 14, 2015, at the Statehouse in Topeka. Associated Press

A coming legislative battle over teacher contract negotiations was foreshadowed in a committee meeting Wednesday.

The K-12 Student Performance and Efficiency Commission recommended two additional task forces, one to identify best practices for school districts and another to make recommendations to the Legislature on measuring education standards.

A minority of commission members also recommended an overhaul of the state law governing teacher contract negotiations.

The minority report proposed a bill to no longer require that certain items – such as overtime pay, grievance procedures, vacation time and sick leave – be part of school districts’ contract negotiations with teachers unions. The items could still be negotiated if the district agreed. The only items the district would be required to negotiate would be salary and work hours.

The Joint Education Committee approved the introduction of two sets of bills based on the whole committee’s recommendations. It did not approve introduction of the teacher negotiation bill.

Sam Williams, the commission’s chairman and a mayoral candidate in Wichita, signed on to the minority report. He said he stood by the recommendations in the majority report but would have liked to include teacher negotiations and other recommendations made in the minority report along with the majority report.

The Kansas Association of School Boards and the Kansas National Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union, are working toward a compromise on how to overhaul contract negotiations.

Asked why he and other signers of the minority report did not wait on that process, Williams said there was a feeling that those negotiations would not result in meaningful change.

“I would suggest that his assumption that the union and the school boards association can’t come to an agreement is ridiculous,” said Mark Desetti, legislative director of the KNEA.

Desetti accused conservatives of trying to weaken the teachers union by limiting their bargaining rights.

“Absolutely, it’s a union-busting bill. Any time you try to dismantle rights held by the union or the employee, that’s a union-busting technique,” Desetti said.

Democrats and moderates prevented the bill from being introduced by using parliamentary procedure. Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, D-Topeka, pointed out that the statute said only that the Legislature would introduce bills recommended by the commission; he contended that did not extend to the minority report.

Several conservatives, such as Rep. John Bradford, R-Lansing, expressed an interest in introducing the teacher negotiation bill on their own. They were unable to, again because of parliamentary rules, which prohibited the introduction of new bills by that point in the meeting. The bill will likely be introduced soon.

Other signers of the minority report were Dennis Depew, a Neodesha attorney; Mike O’Neal, the former speaker of the Kansas House; and Dave Trabert, the president of the Kansas Policy Institute, a think tank based in Wichita.

Trabert accused of moderates and Democrats of stifling change by using parliamentary rules to block the bill, if only for a day. He contended other members of the commission had done the same.

“It’s unfortunate the action that was taken here, because it is symptomatic of why we don’t have the type of education we need,” Trabert said. “This is a clear example of how the interest of institutions is placed over what’s in the best interest of students.”

Some conservative lawmakers expressed disappointment that the commission’s official recommendations broke little new ground.

“It seems like the status quo kind of won out at the end of the day in this process,” observed Rep. Jerry Lunn, R-Overland Park. “It seems like school districts are admitting they’re operating inefficiently.”

Williams said the education system is resistant to change but urged lawmakers to act with urgency.

“If we’re going to compete in the world, we’ve got to figure out how to make sure our workforce is the very best in the world, and that’s education. And it has to be done now. We can’t wait,” he said.

Reach Bryan Lowry at 785-296-3006 or blowry@wichitaeagle.com. Follow him on Twitter: @BryanLowry3.

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