On hold: Committee sidetracks labor bills

After nearly three hours of contentious debate, the Senate Education Committee Wednesday sidetracked two collective bargaining bills pushed by the Idaho School Boards Association.

Committee members went against the ISBA’s wishes and held Senate Bill 1147 and 1148 in committee, subject to action by the chairman, Sen. John Goedde, R-Coeur d’Alene.

SB 1147 would limit master contracts for salaries and benefits to one year. ISBA wanted it sent to the Senate floor for technical amendments.

ISBA Executive Director Karen Echeverria asked that SB 1148 – which would allow school boards to decrease or increase salaries and shorten or extend the contract length for employees – be sent to the Senate floor with a recommendation that it pass.

Votes to hold the bills were unanimous, with the committee’s two Democrats aligning with the seven Republicans.

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Sen. John Goedde, R-Coeur d’Alene

Despite the votes — and despite legislative leaders’ push to adjourn the session in about two weeks – Goedde said neither bill is dead.

“Absolutely they will be rescheduled (this session),” Goedde said after the hearing. “I believe the committee felt they needed time to digest what is before them a little more.”

When Goedde calls the bills back, they would need to pass the committee, pass the full Senate and make their way through the House Education Committee and House floor quickly to have a chance at being adopted — assuming the Legislature clings to its March 29 target date for adjournment.

Eleven teachers turned out to testify, and all of them spoke against the bills.

“This is my 10th year teaching, and I have never seen morale the way that it is right now,” said Jaimee Hoesing, a teacher at Nampa School District’s West Middle School. “We are professionals. We do go to work and we are there for the kids, and when we don’t feel safe and supported and secure, they pick up on that.”

Mackay School District Superintendent Karen Pylon made an impassioned plea to support SB 1148. Even though voters approved a $150,000 supplemental levy Tuesday, Pyron said the district faces a financial emergency. Pyron said the district’s teachers have pledged to cut 5 percent of their salaries to help keep the school open for the district’s 197 students.

District leaders do not have the ability to reduce teacher salaries below contract levels, but this bill would allow them to do just that. “It will save the education lives of 197 deserving kids,” Pyron said.

But Jason Vlcek, a second-grade teacher at Payette Primary School, likened the bill to “a kick in the pants.” He cited an Office of Performance Evaluations survey of 2,486 teachers conducted last fall, that found “a strong undercurrent of despair among teachers.” Turnover issues were largely attributed to dissatisfaction with salaries and benefits.

“We are here to discuss a bill that will further erode the relationship between teachers and school boards,” Vlcek said.

It was not immediately clear when the committee will take the bills up again. Sens. Bob Nonini, R Coeur d’Alene, and Russ Fulcher, R-Meridian, said they need more time to gather input from local school districts and better understand the links between the bills, and the ramifications of them.

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