Bedke: Spend summer studying labor issues

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House Speaker Scott Bedke, R-Oakley

House Speaker Scott Bedke wants a legislative committee to spend the summer studying school labor issues.

The interim committee would look at some labor issues that were raised in Proposition 1 — and have resurfaced throughout the session.

But as the 2013 session winds down toward a possible March 29 adjournment, Bedke sees the interim committee as one piece of the bigger picture on education. And in an interview Monday, Bedke discussed these pieces: rewritten labor bills that have a one-year “sunset clause;” a 2013-14 budget that restores the teacher salary grid; and a $21 million budget line item for teacher merit pay and professional development.

Collective bargaining has been the one big issue up for grabs this legislative session. At its first meeting in January, Gov. Butch Otter’s education reform task force said it would not address labor issues. The Idaho School Boards Association has written, and rewritten, several bills that would put elements of Proposition 1 back into law — including the elimination of ongoing “evergreen” contract clauses, and language allowing a school board to impose its best final offer in the event of an impasse.

Several of the latest rewrites would stay on the books for only one year — such as, for instance, a bill that says a cash-strapped school district will not only consider teacher seniority when cutting staff. Bedke concedes that it’s unlikely, in the span of just one year, that any school district would have to exercise this authority. “But I think (this bill) forces us to put it on the table, and discuss it.”

The interim committee could “possibly” discuss labor issues that haven’t been revisited this session, Bedke said. The ISBA has not proposed bills eliminating teacher tenure and limiting the scope of contract negotiations to salaries and benefits — two controversial elements of Proposition 1, fiercely opposed by the Idaho Education Association.

“We certainly would have a venue to do that,” Bedke said.

But if a legislative interim committee is going to take a closer look at touchy labor issues, the 2013-14 budget is an important backdrop.

The proposal — approved last week by the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee, with the support of all 10 of JFAC’s House members — increases minimum teacher pay from $30,500 to $31,000, and restores two years of movement on a teacher salary grid that was “frozen” during the recession. Unfreezing the salary grid makes sense, Bedke said, especially if collective bargaining laws are going to be reviewed.

Bedke also supports another key piece of the 2013-14 budget: a $21 million line item for professional development and locally written merit pay plans. The line item does not pre-empt Otter’s task force, and would encourage school districts to craft local merit pay plans.

“The vast majority of the school districts are going to deal in good faith,” Bedke said. “I suspect the good ideas are going to coalesce behind five, six, seven concepts.”

Read more: Check the Edge blog later Monday for more from the Bedke interview: a glimpse at the budget endgame — and the speaker’s take on the education task force.

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