To fix public schools, you have to control public schools.
And there’s little control when teachers unions, with their self-serving agendas, question every cost-cutting proposal and reform on the table.
That’s why so many state governments have taken swift action to limit the power of organized labor in public schools. Wisconsin, Ohio, Indiana, Idaho and Michigan were the first, and Tennessee added itself to the list on Wednesday.
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam affixed his signature on House Bill 130 and Senate Bill 113, ending collective bargaining and giving local school boards the full authority to operate their districts in the manner they choose.
That doesn't mean the unions are shut out of the discussion. The new laws create a process called “collaborative conferencing,” where the school board, administrators and union officials will be forced to sit and discuss many of the normal issues, including salary, insurance, grievance procedures and working conditions.
If the two sides agree on any number of issues, they can sign binding “memorandums of understanding,” that will serve the same purpose as collective bargaining agreements. But any issues that are left unsettled will be the sole domain of the school board, with no appellate procedure available to the unions.
School boards will also have the option of not entering into any sort of agreement with the union. In that case they would have full authority to deal with all issues in an arbitrary manner.
Nobody elected the unions
Tennessee lawmakers were careful to leave a few key items off the discussion table, including personnel and staffing decisions, how to use grant money, the evaluation process for employees and whether or not payroll deductions can be made for political purposes.
That means the end of the road for the treasured union concept of seniority, particularly when it’s applied at layoff time.
Basically, lawmakers allowed the unions to keep their bark, but wisely took away their bite. And if school boards get tired of the barking, they will be allowed to close the windows, pull the shutters and go about their business.
Democrats in the legislature, outnumbered in both chambers, have been fuming about the legislation.
“This bill does nothing except take away every part of professional negotiation, every single part,” House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh told knoxnews.com. “Don’t be fooled.”
Actually, we’re not fooled at all. And we kind of like the unique process created by collaborative conferencing.
There are certainly thousands of great teachers in Tennessee, and they’re the soldiers on the front lines. School boards would be stupid to ignore their input when making major decisions.
On the other hand, it was necessary to take away veto power from the teachers unions, due to their stubborn opposition to money-saving contract concessions and education reform efforts.
School boards are elected by the public to run public schools. Nobody elected the unions.