KNEA announces plans to file lawsuit over teacher tenure

KNEA general counsel David Schauner speaks Monday during a news conference announcing the group plans to sue over House Bill 2506.

? The state’s largest teachers union on Monday said it would file a lawsuit challenging the recently approved school bill that repeals tenure rights for public school teachers, gives tax breaks for corporations that provide private-school scholarships and allows some people to teach without an education degree.

“There are a lot of really serious harms that can come from this bill,” said Kansas National Education Association President Karen Godfrey.

While KNEA officials said they would challenge the bill signed into law by Gov. Sam Brownback, they said they hadn’t yet decided on how broad a challenge to make.

During a news conference, most of the remarks from KNEA officials dealt with the part of the bill that takes away the right of teachers to have an administrative hearing in the event of dismissal.

House Bill 2506 “has done a great disservice to the 35,000 people who work their rear ends off every day of the year educating kids,” said David Schauner, general counsel for the KNEA.

Mike Curran, the lead KNEA negotiator for teachers in the Baldwin City school district, said the removal of due process rights for teachers would hurt education.

“So, without due process, do I have to make sure the right kids get A’s in my class, so I don’t get the wrong parents mad. Because if they get mad, then I’m out of a job without due process,” said Curran, a high school math teacher.

But advocates of removing tenure said it would allow schools to fire bad teachers more quickly. Senate President Susan Wagle, R-Wichita, said ” … it is apparent that the KNEA is more concerned about its members than student achievement and outcomes.”

The bill came in response to the Kansas Supreme Court ruling requiring the state to increase funding to poorer school districts.

Republican legislators added the controversial changes in education policy to the funding measure.

Brownback defended the legislation, saying, “The education bill provided $129 million in funding to classrooms and for property tax relief, it provided additional pay for ‘master teachers,’ and it returned local control to school districts. This is a good bill that benefits Kansas children.”

He added, “I hope KNEA will take no action that threatens funding for our schools and the welfare of our students.”

Schauner said he didn’t think a lawsuit would affect the funding portion of the bill.

Schauner noted that last month a court in North Carolina ruled unconstitutional a similar law there that would have gotten rid of tenure for teachers.

North Carolina Superior Court Judge Robert Hobgood ruled that the law violated teachers’ employment contracts with school boards and that the law was an unconstitutional taking of teachers’ property rights.

Schauner said he expected the legal challenge from the KNEA to be filed by the end of the month in state district court in Shawnee County.

In addition to constitutional challenges to the bill, Schauner said the KNEA may challenge the bill on how it was passed. During the legislative process, Democrats said some parts of the bill were added in during meetings that were in violation of the Kansas Open Meetings Act. Supporters of the bill denied this accusation.

In addition to the upcoming court battle, KNEA officials said they would try to get people involved in the Aug. 5 primaries and November general election.