Lawrence Journal World
By Peter Hancock
Updated February 4, 2015, 10:24 p.m.
Topeka — Two competing bills in the Kansas Legislature would redefine how much bargaining power teachers unions have in negotiating master contracts with school districts.
Last week, four education groups representing teachers unions, school boards, superintendents and school administrators reached an agreement after 18 months of negotiations that would require negotiation of salaries, wages and hours worked, but it would allow each side to add five additional items that are most important to them.
A bill reflecting that compromise has been introduced in the Senate.
But on Wednesday, the House Education Committee heard testimony on another bill, one backed mainly by conservatives, that would limit the number of items that must be negotiated to just salaries and wages, and hours worked. Any other items, such as insurance benefits, dress codes, evaluation and disciplinary procedures, would only be open if both sides agree to negotiate them.
"The reason for this was so that they could make better efficiency and operating decisions for their school districts," said Dave Trabert, president of the conservative think tank Kansas Policy Institute.
Trabert served last year on the K-12 Student Performance and Efficiency Commission, a special task force set up by the Legislature last year to study and recommend ways schools could be more efficient with the state funding they receive.
The majority report from that commission did not recommend any changes to the Professional Negotiations Act. But Trabert and three others wrote a separate "minority report" that recommended sweeping restrictions on what districts do and don't have to negotiate.
Trabert said the idea of limiting negotiations initially came from superintendents and school boards, and that the minority report reflects what those groups had wanted to begin with. He described the negotiated agreement as a "compromise."
But representatives from the four education groups testified against Trabert's proposal.
Cheryl Semmel, executive director of United School Administrators of Kansas, said the four groups were encouraged to work out an agreement during the 2013 session, after contentious debates over an earlier bill to limit collective bargaining.
Mark Tallman, a lobbyist for the Kansas Association of School Boards, said members of his organization had authorized the association to negotiate an agreement, and that the association would not support any other proposal besides the one that was negotiated.
The committee only heard testimony on the bill Wednesday. There was no immediate word on when the panel would debate the bill or vote on sending it to the full House.