Kansas legislature

Kansas Legislature

Collective bargaining issues expose open rift among education lobby groups

March 17, 2013, 12:00 a.m. Updated March 17, 2013, 7:09 p.m.


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  • In years past at the Kansas Statehouse, it was common to see lobbyists for various education interests sitting together and talking cordially with one another — sometimes even eating lunch together — to compare notes about how they would testify about various bills in committee hearings.

    But that was then. That was when the big education issues at the Statehouse were things that united both labor and management in public schools: support for increased education funding and opposition to voucher programs or legislative mandates about school curriculum.

    This year, those issues are still on the table, but they almost pale in comparison with another overriding issue that has created a wide, bitter and very public split among the groups: collective bargaining rights for teachers.

    Specifically, there are two major pieces of legislation working their way through the process that teachers view as a direct assault on collective bargaining rights.

    One, which is currently contained in House Bill 2027, would narrow the scope of the Professional Negotiations Act, which defines what issues in teacher contract negotiations are subject to collective bargaining and give individual teachers the right to negotiate their own contracts, or be represented by another professional organization.

    That bill is currently pending in the House Committee on Commerce, Labor and Economic Development.

    The other, currently contained in Senate Substitute for House Bill 2022, would prohibit any public employee unions from funding a political action committee with money collected through payroll deductions. In other words, employees who want to contribute to their union's PAC would be required to write personal checks or set up automatic withdrawals through their banks.

    Both the House and Senate have passed different versions of that bill and are now expected to name a conference committee to negotiate final language.

    The Kansas National Education Association, the state's largest teachers union, has passionately opposed both bills. But lobby groups representing school boards, superintendents and school administrators have endorsed at least part of the collective bargaining bill and remained silent on the bill dealing with PAC contributions.

    That lack of support from the management side has riled KNEA, creating an open rift so serious that some believe it could spill over into contract negotiations at the local level, making negotiations in Lawrence and other school districts more contentious than ever before.

    "What worries me about Lawrence," said Deena Burnett, president of the Lawrence Education Association, which represents teachers in the Lawrence school district, "is even though the (school) board chose to support their teachers' rights in collective bargaining, at this point I do not know that our administration does because I have heard nothing to the contrary at this point. That worries me."

    Public battling

    The most visible sign of how serious the rift has become appeared last week when KNEA president Karen Godfrey released what was titled an "Open Letter to Our Education Community," which was distributed by email statewide, in which she called those bills a "vicious attack" on its right to collect dues through payroll deductions and a "brutal assault" on collective bargaining rights.

    She then warned the Kansas Association of School Boards, the Kansas chapter of United School Administrators and the Kansas School Superintendents Association that their support, or tacit acceptance of those bills, could have consequences at the local level.

    "Considering the lack of interest in collaboration at the state level, it is hardly surprising that our teachers don't trust that collaboration will be valued at the local level," Godfrey wrote. "Expecting teachers to accept their reassurance that we can trust their good intentions isn't reasonable under the circumstances."

    Mark Tallman, a lobbyist for the school boards group, said he understood KNEA's frustration, but defended his group's position.

    "We have simply been trying to follow, as much as we could, the positions that our members have taken and tried to look for a way to address that," Tallman said. "We have said all along, and continue to say, that on this particular issue of collective bargaining, we would like to find some common ground. I still hope that is a possibility."

    Regarding payroll deductions and PAC contributions, Tallman said that was a union issue in which the school boards had no interest one way or another.

    "It's not our fight," he said.

    Source of the controversies

    Tallman said the school boards openly support one provision of the collective bargaining bill that would remove teacher evaluations from the list of items that are subject to negotiations. And he said much of that can be traced directly to the Barack Obama administration and its push to require that evaluations be tied to student growth and achievement.

    That was a requirement for Kansas receiving a waiver last year from the federal No Child Left Behind law. The Kansas Department of Education is now developing a model evaluation system called the Kansas Educator Evaluation Protocol, or KEEP, to comply with that provision of the waiver.

    "We're willing to agree to a stronger state protocol that everyone should have to follow," Tallman said. "Partly, we think that's the right thing to do; partly, because it helps us comply with the No Child Left Behind waiver, and our members have expressed a lot of support for that."

    But the political issue this year goes far beyond the federal waiver and appears to be part of a general effort by business groups and conservative activists to diminish the power of labor unions, especially in the area of education.

    Eric Stafford, a lobbyist for the Kansas Chamber of Commerce, testified before one committee in favor of the bill limiting PAC donations, saying, “I need this bill passed so we can get rid of public sector unions.”

    And Dave Trabert, president of the conservative think tank Kansas Policy Institute, said he believes teachers unions are responsible for what he has described as poor performance of public schools in Kansas.

    "You talk to superintendents, they say they need more flexibility to make decisions that they believe are in the kids' best interests, not what might be in the adults' best interests," Trabert said. "I think these (bills) are very directly related to that. These are student-focused moves that are being made."

    Lawrence school board sides with teachers

    The rift also became visible last month at the Lawrence school board when the board voted unanimously to endorse a letter to Gov. Sam Brownback and members of the Legislature staunchly opposing the bill limiting collective bargaining rights.

    That vote came despite the fact that Lawrence Superintendent Rick Doll serves on the board of directors of the Kansas School Superintendents Association, one of the groups that has endorsed limiting teachers' collective bargaining rights.

    Burnett, the local union president, said that was an important message for the board to send.

    "For our board to unanimously choose to send a letter in opposition to the collective bargaining piece, as it stood at that point, was critical to future negotiations in Lawrence," she said.

    The Lawrence district is currently preparing for the next round of contract negotiations with local teachers. Burnett said the union was prepared to schedule the first face-to-face meeting in mid-February, but she believes the district is waiting to see what happens in the Legislature before making a commitment.

    Currently, she said, the first face-to-face meeting is set for March 26, a date requested by the administration. That is also one day before the deadline in the Legislature for bills to pass out of the second chamber so they can either be sent to the governor or assigned to a conference committee.


    Richard Heckler 1 year ago

    Sam,the rt wing repubs answer to ALEC who sponsor misinformation regarding public education in addition to starving our public school of operational funding. ALEC success depends on divide and conquer.

    The problems with funding and bargaining rights begin here.

    United States of ALEC – Bill Moyers

    ALEC – The Voice of Corporate Special Interests in State Legislatures

    ALEX EXPOSED – The Koch Connection

    ALEC – Ghostwriting The Law for Corporate America


    ALEC Private Schools - Corporate Education Reformers Plot Next Steps at Secretive Meeting

    There is a group who sees the billions in school tax dollars eventually coming back into their bank accounts. They love the idea of guaranteed profits for their corporate private schools.

    Unfortunately ALEC and a large majority of the republican party got married to the idea that working class blue and white collars make too much money. Talk about living in glass houses.


    JayhawkFan1985 1 year, 1 month ago

    You have to admire the GOP's tactics of divide and conquer. They'll be able to hobble public education because the education interests aren't standing together. It will be the kids and the public interest who will be the big losers. Sam Brownback and this legislature are evil and intent on destroying our state. They are harbingers of doom.


    Gotland 1 year, 1 month ago

    There is no honor amongst thieves.


    windex 1 year, 1 month ago

    Here's the reason the conversation gets shifted from policy matters to union matters, Moderate: teachers are told to accomplish ABCDEFG. Then they are given enough resources to accomplish ABC and D. So they request (or "beg" or "scream" for, as some put it) more resources, and the union is the most effective way of doing so.


    George Lippencott 1 year, 1 month ago

    Now for a more comprehensive comment.

    I love aggravating that collective lot of frequent left of center commentators on here. If you have not noticed I have a pretty standard approach to my comments. I try within my capability to move the argument into the policy realm. In my discussion here I tried to contrast public and private sector unions and the powers available to each. I really was not trying to comment on the specific activity of our legislature

    Now all too often the group of you assumes that anybody including me that disagree with you must agree with a Republican position that you assign to them. I find that representative of a poorly informed or disingenuous person. Even within the legislature there are all sorts of positions on various issues that come before the legislature. I find it hard to simply assume the worst and remain more fluid as to what they may actually do. Like you, I also am trying to influence them by my more general approach that may not fully agree with the more extreme positions that some of them might take.

    I confess that you all are quite good at luring me off point (consciously or unconsciously). For example shifting to funding matters and away from union matters. Of course you could be seen as reinforcing arguments by some members of the Republican caucus that teacher unions are never ending advocates for more and more money for every conceivable aspect of education with little regard for the source of those funds or any attempt at priorities.

    For the record I do not support any particular position on any specific bill currently before the legislature and in fact believe that the final product will vary from what is currently visible. So when you tell me I do not understand the bills as written you are partially right - because I consider them of low relevance and not worthy of many cycles.

    What I do consider worthy of note is the policy issues those bills address IMHO. Now I do not think that the entire Republican caucus is out to limit your individual or even collective political clout – certainly some are. That said I would very much like to see some limits on your negotiating scope with focus on salaries, evaluations, hiring and firing and a few lesser issue. As a taxpayer I believe you all have become too powerful and too conservative on the matter.


    George Lippencott 1 year, 1 month ago

    To my "progressive" teacher "friends". Poking people in the eye certainly does generate a lot of information and clarification.


    JohnSickels 1 year, 1 month ago

    Still waiting for Dave Trabert's explanation on how cutting budgets for public schools will help developmentally disabled and autistic children like my son.

    The Lawrence district does a good job with him, but many other districts would not have the resources to do so. Trabert and ALEC's agenda would make it even more difficult.

    What is the free market solution for middle and lower class parents dealing with autism, Dave?


    windex 1 year, 1 month ago

    So if certain high-performing teachers are to be paid more and there will be additional monies available to secure great science and math teachers, where will this money come from? Paying other teachers less? Cutting positions? Don't we already hire the best teachers available? Isn't the three-year long probation period sufficient to determine whether a teacher is worth keeping?


    sci4all 1 year, 1 month ago

    Dave's bosses at ALEC don't grade state school systems on student achievement.

    Instead, they're graded on how well they follow the ALEC playbook of privatizing public schools.

    For example, "Indiana's ALEC grade improved to a B from a C+ in 2010 even though its NAEP scores declined from 13th to 17th. Indiana did, however, pass several pieces of legislation in the last year that were influenced by ALEC model bills, including the creation of a statewide voucher school program, merit pay and restricted collective bargaining rights for teachers, and deep budget cuts."

    Dave says he's all about increasing student achievement, but nowhere does that appear in his bio for the KPI. His bio focuses on his function as an ALEC task force member and on his work for a private education choice foundation.

    It's almost like Dave's concern for student achievement is a smokescreen for what he and his ALEC bosses really value.


    weeslicket 1 year, 1 month ago

    Dave Trabert 11 hours, 40 minutes ago No, he made it up.


    (should i go back and hit the "like" button on this one, or shall you?(


    buffalo63 1 year, 1 month ago

    Most likely student performance is not the real reason for these bills. There are ways already in practice that can raise student performance and it will take everyone doing their job properly. Funding, evaluation of teachers, administrators and students, along with highlighting successful programs, schools, equipment and procedures.


    Peter Hancock 1 year, 1 month ago

    Mr. Trabert is correct in that I should not have put the words "poor performance" in quotation marks. Those were not his words. They were my way of collectively paraphrasing comments and statements he has made over a period of years, including comments in his testimony on March 11 and in my direct interview with him that day.

    In his testimony on Thursday, March 11, Mr. Trabert presented slides stating that Kansas has "reduced performance standards" in order to avoid financial penalties under No Child Left Behind, and the result has been to create an impression that Kansas students (and schools) are performing better than they actually are.

    In my interview with Mr. Trabert moments before that testimony, he stated: "Kansans believe that schools have very high performance. In fact, that's what they're told by school districts and media. And that's what we're going to be talking about here today. The truth is that achievement levels are actually lower than what a lot of people believe."

    I then asked him to describe the link between those performance levels and collective bargaining rights for teachers. He responded with the quote that is included in the story.


    SnakeFist 1 year, 1 month ago

    In my experience, school administrators don't want what the legislature is trying to give them.

    For example, administrators don't want to negotiate hundreds of separate contracts - collective bargaining is much more efficient for everyone. In fact, I suspect that collective bargaining will continue as a practical matter regardless of what the legislature does, and, in any event, most instructors are not so accomplished that they will be able to get much more through individual negotiation.

    Similarly, administrators don't want to deal with multiple employee organizations that may take conflicting positions - having a single organization is, again, much more efficient for everyone.


    George Lippencott 1 year, 1 month ago

    I keep poking people in the eye on this topic because of what I consider the hypocrisy evident in the teacher’s union position.

    There are very few professionals in the US who have a union with bargaining power available to them. Teachers consider themselves (and I consider them) professionals. Why should they alone among professional have a union with bargaining power over salary and evaluations??

    They can still join a union if they wish. They can still express themselves politically if they wish. PACs will still be there although they may have to contribute directly as most other professions do.

    You really cannot have it both ways. Either you are a professional with the respect and responsibilities of a professional or you are a laborer represented by a union with bargaining power – a set in decline.


    Agnostick 1 year, 1 month ago

    Please publicly post the audio of the Trabert interview.


    IKU57 1 year, 1 month ago

    "crumbling social fabric with more and more dysfunctional families"

    Public teachers did not just start teaching last week. They have been teaching generations of people that have become the crumbling social fabric and dysfunctional families. In fact, the teachers today, were taught by teachers that have lead to the "crumbling social fabric with more and more dysfunctional families"

    The system needs to be redesigned. It needs to be designed like the discipline of 19th/20th centuries.


    Curveball 1 year, 1 month ago

    I think the most important issue for the KNEA is the payroll deduction. Any organization that has to depend on monthly dues for support has to have it to survive. This applies to other organizations besides labor unions. Except for the very rich, most people have an occasional bump in their budget where something unexpected comes up. As a result something else gets put on the back burner for awhile (like dues to some club, etc.). The union leadership is well aware of this and they know that members get behind on dues, fees and other payments. After a time, some members may choose to just "ride for free" and let the others finance the operation. Revenue, cash flow, dues or whatever you want to call it is the lifeblood of any business, union or civic organization. The Federal Government may be the exception. They seem to be able to operate forever on borrowed money.


    buffalo63 1 year, 1 month ago

    Just checked your reference to the testimony you gave. It is all charts and what is not there is your comments about the charts. The last one is very telling. ...."under the current system". It seems these bills are trying to change the system, but to what end? Isn't there a better way to do that by including all educators? The year I was president of a local "union", the superintendent came and asked me if the teachers would wave the tenure procedure so he could fire a couple of teachers whom he thought weren't doing a "good job". The catch was HE wasn't doing a "good job" because there was a procedure already in place to "fire" poor teachers. By not following the procedure, he failed to do his job.


    Dave Trabert 1 year, 1 month ago

    I did NOT tell Peter Hancock or anyone else that "...teachers unions are responsible for what he describes as "poor performance" of public schools in Kansas." I said nothing of the sort. That is nothing more than a deliberate effort on his part to enrage people.

    He asked my why I thought certain pieces of legislation were being proposed and I told him that it was likely related to the fact that when people in general and legislators in particular begin to understand that student achievement is not as high as perceived, they want to know what can be done to improve achievement. Legislation that allows superintendents to make decisions they believe are in students' best interest is understandable in that regard.

    He didn't seem to like the answer I gave him so he made one up.

    Ironically, the interview preceded testimony I gave to the House Education Committee on student achievement, where it was made quite clear that many kids in Kansas get a good public education but some, especially low income students, are far behind. I never said Kansas schools have poor performance. That's not true. I said Kansas students perform a little above the national average on NAEP and ACT.

    I also go out of my way to emphasize that any deficiencies in student achievement are no one's fault. Media and others know that Kansas Policy Institute blames no one for the fact that a lot of kids aren't performing to the levels that many parents believe they are, but that doesn't fit the story they want to tell so they unfortunately make things up.

    We'll be registering a formal complaint with the Lawrence Journal-World over this deliberate misstatement of the truth.

    The testimony I presented on student achievement is available at


    SusabelleGee 1 year, 1 month ago

    As an Educator, I am tired of being blamed for declining education. Sit in our shoes each day and see what we have to deal with. There are so many personal issues that must also be included and fixed in the day and now we are told what to teach so the kids can pass assessments. We must prepare each kid for college when we have kids that do not care about book learning. Then there is the parent component that no one seems to acknowledge, so many of them do not care. (This is NOT all parents) I have not "raised" these kids, yet, I am supposed to teach them morals and values. Was that not the parents responsibility at some point? Educators have become the dumping ground for all problems today according to our Legislators, no one even mentions PARENTS!


    1Dem 1 year, 1 month ago

    And Dave Trabert, president of the conservative think tank Kansas Policy Institute, said he believes teachers unions are responsible for what he describes as "poor performance" of public schools in Kansas.

    Does reducing funding for public schools improve performance Dave?

    Come on Dave, tell us what your hidden agenda is. Tell us what the plan is. Is it to let public schools die on the vine and move to Charter schools before school vouchers solve the problem. Will getting some taxpayer money to those private schools solve the public school problem Dave.

    You are well paid by the corporate interests Dave. CEOs are well paid. We are told a high salary attracts talent. Shouldn't teachers be well paid so more talented teachers are recruited and retained.


    weeslicket 1 year, 1 month ago

    to the school board of lawrence public schools: YOU hold dr. doll's contract. if he is this far out of step with the community he is contracted to serve, then YOU have the ability to sever that contract and select a better fit.


    weeslicket 1 year, 1 month ago

    the argument from the statehouse seems to be: 1) gut unions; 2) then districts/boards/superintendents will have the ability to slash teaching salaries, increase work demands, and eliminate health insurance coverage (to name a few formerly negotiable items); 3) and then, highly qualified teachers will simply flood into kansas.

    of course, it's much more likely that the actual intent of these laws is: 1) then 2) then 3) finally! we have destroyed public education in the state of kansas!


    texburgh 1 year, 1 month ago

    This rift is a dream come true for Brownback, Trabert, and the anti-education crown in the Kansas Legislature including the Kansas Chamber of Commerce. And the truth is that KASB and KSSA have been co-opted by the extremists. Brownback and friends called them in for chats, got them to agree to help crush the union, and promised them what? Flat funding for schools? A veto of the no tax money for lobbying bill? KASB has even endorsed Brownback's tax bill that raises sales taxes and strips Kansans of their mortgage interest and property taxes paid deductions while adopting more tax cuts for the wealthiest in Kansas. KASB's endorsement of that plan puts the rest any idea that the Lawrence school bond is a "no increase" measure. Yes, KASB and KSSA are happy because they have a seat at the table. What they don't realize is that next year, they're on the menu.


    KSManimal 1 year, 1 month ago

    Granted, I have not yet consumed my second cup of coffee....but it appears that Mr. Doll did not comment for this article. Surely he was invited to, right? I wonder....why the silence?

    No quote necessary, I guess. Silence speaks volumes.

    Tallman of KASB says the political action bill isn't their fight....wrong. When legislation exists for no other purpose than to inhibit select groups of people from participating in their own government...that is EVERYONE'S fight.

    Hey Tallman....remember that bill that would have prohibited SCHOOL BOARDS and other units of local government from participating in the political process? No? That's because KNEA and others worked their collective fannies off fighting it, and now it's dead.

    "Divide and conquer" is the name of the game in Topeka, and there seem to be plenty of naive cowards playing right along. Do you KASB, USA, KSSA folks really believe that YOU won't be the targets next time around? Who will stand and fight at your side next year?


    question4u 1 year, 1 month ago

    "And Dave Trabert, president of the conservative think tank Kansas Policy Institute, said he believes teachers unions are responsible for what he describes as "poor performance" of public schools in Kansas."

    Good point. So, now we fix things by attracting highly qualified, talented, and innovative people to the teaching profession by paying competitive salaries, providing job security, and ensuring adequate retirement benefits. That makes sense, because investment in quality teachers is an investment in the future of....

    Wait...What Dave? We fix things by cutting salaries, eliminating job security, and reducing benefits? And what else? Disparaging teachers as responsible for "poor performance" of Kansas schools?

    Wow! Who would have thought that you could improve education by making the teaching profession as unattractive as possible and driving away anyone with talent and ambition. Who would have thought that students would benefit most from demoralized teachers driven to the verge of quitting the profession? It goes against all common sense and experience, but that's why it's great that we have corporate-funded think tanks to do our thinking for us.

    So, all of you potential education majors, pay attention! If you're good at math or keen on science, don't just consider things like financial rewards, job satisfaction, and a secure future for your family. Consider a career in Kansas schools. Sure, it might be a nasty, brutish, and short but the upside is...Well...Dave will get back too you on that.


    Paul R Getto 1 year, 1 month ago

    The problem, dear Dave T, is not the teachers. We have an obsolete system that is changing too slowly and a crumbling social fabric with more and more dysfunctional families. We are running schools which, for the most part, still are designed for the 19th/20th century. Many schools are trying hard and perform big and small miracles every day against huge odds.

    But it is not enough to keep up with a rapidly changing world. And, your minions' effort to defund the schools and privatise America's crown jewel is clearly not helping. Simple phrases do not reform complex systems. Please stop the teacher-bashing by proxy. Most boards and most superintendents value and respect their teaching staffs. Are there duds? Yes. There are duds on Wall Street too. REFORM, but do not destroy.


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