Wednesday, October 01, 2014

Official predicts ‘teaching in fear’ after governor signs funding bill

By DYLAN LYSEN, Herald Staff Writer | 4/21/2014

The governor’s signature Monday was a “devastating blow” to public schools, Megan Morris said.

When the Kansas Supreme Court ordered legislators this spring to fix funding inequity between school districts, few would have guessed lawmakers’ solution would involve removing teachers’ due process or tenure rights.

The governor’s signature Monday was a “devastating blow” to public schools, Megan Morris said.

When the Kansas Supreme Court ordered legislators this spring to fix funding inequity between school districts, few would have guessed lawmakers’ solution would involve removing teachers’ due process or tenure rights.

“It hurts Kansas students because teachers are now going to have to worry about who they’re pleasing with every decision. It’s not helping anyone when teachers are teaching in fear,” Morris, a teacher at Lincoln Elementary School, 1102 N. Milner Road, and president of Ottawa Education Association, said Monday. “The other thing that concerns me is the possibility of losing good teachers because Kansas is [ranked] 42nd in pay and you have no due process rights.”

Gov. Sam Brownback signed Senate Substitute for House Bill 2506 into law Monday, which aims to satisfy a court order to address inequity between school districts in K-12 education funding by closing the gap in the capital outlay and local option budget funds. But the law includes a more controversial caveat to remove due process rights, or tenure, for public school teachers, a protection teachers have enjoyed since 1957.

“[Kansas is] just not a great place to teach right now, because of what’s going on [in Topeka],” Morris said. “It’s too bad.”

The Ottawa teachers’ union president wasn’t alone in opposing the legislation. Lobbyist groups and teachers organizations pressured Brownback not to sign the bill. It was unclear until recently how the governor would act on the measure. Brownback told an Emporia radio station April 14 he would sign the bill, then later that day told reporters in Wichita he wasn’t sure, the Wichita Eagle reported.

Ultimately, the governor tilted his support toward the legislation, though downplaying the tenure aspect of the debate.

“This bill fully addresses the equity issue addressed in the [court’s] decision. Most important, it puts money in the classroom to benefit students and teachers and provides property tax relief for Kansans,” Brownback said Monday after signing the bill. “It makes strategic investments in our institutions of higher education, recognizing the important role they play in creating our next generation of Kansas teachers, doctors, business people and community leaders.”

Brownback was joined by Senate President Susan Wagle, R-Wichita, and House Speaker Ray Merrick, R-Stilwell, Monday.

“This bill returns control to the local school districts and communities,” Wagle said. “These reforms will benefit Kansas students. We have good schools in Kansas, and this will make them even stronger.”

Education administrators and teachers in Franklin County had mixed views of the bill. While Jeanne Stroh, Ottawa school district superintendent, was happy to see the state issue more money to education funding, she was unsure how the removal of due process rights was going to affect her staff, she said.

School districts should be able to fire bad teachers, Bob Fluke, Franklin County Republican Central Committee chairman and math teacher at Ottawa Middle School, said previously, but the due process rights didn’t need to be removed by legislators.

“I don’t want any bad teachers in the profession; obviously, I don’t think anyone does,” Fluke said. “But at the same time, I don’t want any teachers wrongfully attacked. I think administrators need to make sure they have their ducks in a row, and they should be able to release a teacher simply because they aren’t good. It takes a little bit of time, but they need to make sure their teachers on their staff give the best education to their students. If it takes time, so be it.”

The Kansas National Education Association, the largest teachers union in the state, said it plans to sue any school district that fires a teacher without due process, according to media reports.

David Schauner, general counsel for the Kansas National Education Association, said the legislation can’t apply retroactively to teachers who already have due process, according to the Wichita Eagle.

“There’s some Kansas Supreme Court language to that effect by virtue of interpretation, and we may end up litigating that question,” he said. “We’re certainly prepared and stand ready, willing and able to do that.”

comments powered by Disqus