Heavy Rain


Local districts can handle negotiations

Board understandably cool to meddling

By The Mercury

We can’t fault members of the Manhattan-Ogden Board of Education for their indignation at the notion that they support limits on issues open for discussion during contract negotiations with teachers. In fact we applaud their desire to make their own decisions.

The Kansas Association of School Boards (KASB) has proposed limiting the subject matter of school board-teacher negotiations to compensation, fringe benefits, hours, workloads, leaves and holidays. Among issues that would be eliminated are teacher evaluations.

Local board members wanted nothing to do with the changes. Board Vice President Leah Fliter wondered why the Kansas Association of School Boards would do the bidding of a legislature that she said is “actively trying to shut down public education.

“ If they’re naïve enough to think we have to work with a legislature that would really be happy to shut us down and very happy to shut the teachers’ union, we don’t need to have any part of that.”

Good for her. And good for longtime board member Dave Colburn, who was chosen Wednesday to be the board’s delegate to the Kansas Association of School Boards convention. He said, “We have talked and talked and talked for decades about funding and other issues, and (legislators) have paid zero attention to us. The notion that they need to hear from us in this issue… I can’t come up with words to explain the irony, the hypocrisy and the ludicrousness of that.”

The KASB is expected to take a formal position on the proposed changes during its convention in December.

The issue of limiting negotiations topics, which is certain to surface in the 2014 Legislature, is not a new one. Among related bills lawmakers considered last session was one that would reduce from 30 to five the number of issues teachers could negotiate with boards. Frank Henderson, KASB president, testified for the reduction during a Kansas House committee meeting last March. He said school boards needed the change in order “to be more proactive in managing school districts.”

We don’t know how many or which topics board members and teachers ought to negotiate. But we also don’t think the Legislature ought to be dictating what local boards and teachers can negotiate and what is off limits.

As it happens, the relationship between the Manhattan-Ogden Board of Education and NEA-Manhattan, which negotiates on teachers’ behalf, is generally respectful and amicable.

Understandably, the two sides often don’t see eye to eye and sometimes disagree sharply. But they at least try to resolve differences from a collaborative rather than an adversarial approach. That’s worth preserving.

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