By DR. LONNIE BARBER
The 2011 Legislature made sweeping educational reforms, sponsored by State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna, and signed into law by Gov. Butch Otter. The reforms, titled "Students Come First," are centered on three pillars of reform and touted as "a plan to educate more students at a higher level with limited resources."
Senate Bill 1110 establishes a pay-for-performance system for teachers, Senate Bill 1184 forces a reduction of the number of teachers and paraprofessionals in Idaho by more than 1,000 to support more technology in the classrooms, and Senate Bill 1108 is labeled as a labor relations and employee entitlement bill.
While I personally believe that each of these bills contains some parts that are detrimental to the education of our children, I would like to focus on the implications that Senate Bill 1108, labor relations and employee entitlements, has for our school district. While Superintendent Luna has said that this legislation returns decision-making powers to locally elected school boards and creates a more professional and accountable work force, others have labeled it as a "union-busting" bill. The bill in effect does the following:
( Phases out continuing contracts for all current and future teachers who have not yet earned it (have not completed three full years of successful practice in the district), to be replaced by one- or two-year contracts.
( Eliminates seniority as a factor in the RIF, reduction in force, decisions made by the board of trustees.
( Creates a requirement that feedback from parents and objective measures of growth in student achievement are factors in the performance evaluations of professional staff.
( Gives principals more control over the new professional staff assigned to their buildings.
( Eliminates the Early Retirement Incentive Program for certified teachers.
( Limits the length of negotiated agreements between the school district and teachers to one year.
( Eliminates the "evergreen" clauses from negotiated agreements, meaning that master contracts that have guided districts and teachers for many years can no longer be carried over from year to year.
( Requires unions and teacher associations to provide documentation that they represent more than 50 percent of employees for collective bargaining to take place.
( Limits collective bargaining (negotiations) to compensation (salaries and benefits).
( Requires that all labor negotiations be conducted in public meetings.
The Blaine County School District and the Blaine County Education Association have a longstanding and effective partnership in our district, including the negotiations process. While negotiations have in the past been conducted in private, I am confident that our negotiations will continue to benefit both the district and our teachers, whether conducted in private or in public.
In the past, negotiations have consisted of teams of certified teachers, administrators and board members. This will not change. The biggest change will be the fact that the law now limits negotiations to discussions about teacher compensation (salaries and benefits).
While negotiations are conducted between the administration and certified teachers, it has been our history that any additional salary or increases in benefit have been extended to our hard-working classified employees. I do not anticipate that this will change.
I will inform the public of the negotiation dates as soon as they are established. I am confident that the partnership that exists between the Education Association and the School District will continue to be both collaborative and fruitful and that the new process will serve our students, teachers, administrators and community well.
The children that we educate today are tomorrow's future. Our job is to give our children the best possible education so that they are equipped to create the best possible future. We cannot do that without our valuable teachers.
Dr. Lonnie Barber is superintendent of the Blaine County School District.