Voices from the Idaho EdNews Community

Capitol Notes from the ISBA, Jan. 21

What is Capitol notes?

This year begins my fifth year of writing the weekly Capitol Notes. For those of you that are new to this publication, each week during the legislative session, I write a short synopsis of the weekly legislative happenings. The intent is to let you know what happened last week, what we expect to occur in the week ahead, and what activity is occurring with the resolutions passed by the Idaho School Boards Association (ISBA) membership. The link for each week’s edition will be found in the ISBA Voice. We will distribute that every Monday morning during the legislative session.

Session begins moving quickly

This year’s session seems to be starting quicker than in past years. It is my understanding that the new Speaker of the House and the Pro Tem of the Senate are hoping to see a short session. In addition, several civic groups held education-related events that brought most of the education community together for lunches and presentations. And, finally, the Governor’s Education Task Force was appointed. The
ISBA has four seats on the Task Force and we met once already. There are two more meetings already planned in the next few weeks.

What are the plans for the Governor’s Education Task Force?

The long term plans for the Task Force are to look at the entire structure of education in Idaho. Although we have only met one time, it is my understanding that we are going to break into four or five smaller subgroups and tackle specific issues. We may or may not bring legislation forward this year or even next year. It will depend on the outcome of the discussions. Obviously, it is still early for this committee and the scope is still very broad.

One thing is for sure. The Chair of the Task Force, State Board of Education (SBOE) member, Richard Westerberg, indicated that the Task Force will not address labor issues. He said that the SBOE has historically never addressed these issues and they would not do so now. That was good news for the ISBA. It meant that we can now move forward with the initiatives found in our Resolution #3 on collective bargaining
and teacher contracts and we can do so without interfering with the Task Force.

Below is a breakdown of our resolutions and the current activity:

Resolution # 1 – The Kitchen Sink in Funding

This resolution contains many elements – all related to funding of public education in some way. Below is a breakdown of the pieces we are currently working on:

Students Come First Repeal and $30.1 million
With the repeal of SCF, there is currently no mechanism or law that will allow for the distribution of approximately $30.1 million. For the most part, these are dollars that school districts have already budgeted for. They include the use it or lose it provision, technology funding, funding for math and science teachers, funding for students taking dual enrollment courses, and funding for movement on the grid for education credits. We would like to see all of those dollars appropriated back to school districts.

We feel strongly this is going to happen. But, it comes with a catch. As happens every year, some education related legislation will be “traded” for something else. For the ISBA, the “trade” is going to be a win-win. The trade will include the funding legislation for the collective bargaining legislation.

What does that mean? It means that one group of legislators wants to see the labor bills get passed and another group of legislators wants to see the funding bills get passed. And, they may not necessarily want to see the opposite bills get passed. So, the bargaining begins.

We have been asked to print all of our collective bargaining and labor bills. When we do that, then we will see the funding bills get printed. We take a step, they take a step. Once printed, the bills will then begin making their way through the system. One more step for each side.

Why is this a win/win for the ISBA? Because, if this is a successful bargain, we will get both the funding outlined in our Resolution #1 and the labor issues outlined in Resolution #3.

At this time, we believe there will be six or seven pieces of legislation printed on the labor bills. Some will begin in the House; some will begin in the Senate. We will not be printing the funding bills; those will come from other entities. However, we will stand in full support of those bills. It is my understanding, that the funding bills will also be printed in the germane education committees and not in the Joint Finance Appropriation Committee (JFAC). The reason for that is that the funding is related to policy issues. Policy issues are always heard in the germane committees. Finally, we believe the collective bargaining and labor bills will be printed this coming week.

Bringing Back Use it or Lose it

The Use it or Lose it part of the funding is twofold. First of all, we want to get the funding back for the fiscal year that we are in, FY13, as discussed above. In addition, we need to have the law changed so we can continue to use this mechanism in outgoing years. Otherwise, we will once again need to hire as many teachers as we are funded for and will have no flexibility with 9.5% of the salary dollars that each school district receives.

If we do not see that legislation coming in the next week or so, we will craft it ourselves and find a sponsor and run this legislation in addition to our other legislation.

Lottery Funds and Building Maintenance

One of the elements found in our Resolution #1 was to move the Lottery Funds back into building maintenance rather than allowing it to be used as discretionary funds. The Governor’s proposed budget did that so we would support that change.

At the same time, Superintendent Luna has called a meeting for Wednesday morning to discuss the budget he will be presenting to JFAC. We hope his budget will contain the same line item in funding. If not, during that meeting, we will push for those dollars to
be moved back to that line item.

Business Personal Property Tax

This will be one of the big issues of the session. The complete removal of the business personal property tax comes with a $140 million price tag that will hit all local taxing districts including counties, cities, and school districts. It will have a $38.6 million hit to school districts.

The Governor is in support of some relief for businesses and has placed $20 million in replacement funds in his budget. We believe that some form of legislation will pass this year. As long as there are replacement dollars in the budget, I think you will see the taxing districts support the legislation.

Cities, counties, and school districts are currently looking to offer a compromise that would give relief to 85-90% of all small business owners. It would give relief in the amount that the Governor has allocated in his budget and would mean that those small businesses would no longer have to deal with this tax.

We have been meeting with the affected entities and the Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry (IACI), the entity that is lobbying for the complete repeal of this tax. The Idaho State Tax Commission is currently working on numbers to show the financial hit to the taxing districts at certain levels of repeal. For instance, what impact does it have if they repeal the tax at the $100,000 or $200,000 level? Once those figures are available, we will be meeting again.

In the meantime, we would ask that you let your local legislators know the impact it could have on your school district. We have a link to those figures posted on our website and it shows what the actual amount would be for each individual school district. That document can be found by clicking here.

Resolution #3 – Collective Bargaining and Teacher Contracts

I discussed this legislation above. However, I wanted to go into more detail here about what we think this legislation will look like.

As we began crafting the legislation, we were cognizant of some of the concerns last year that the legislation did not relate to the same topic – something that the legislative rules require. In addition, we wanted to keep the bigger topics in separate bills. That way if one element got into trouble and we didn’t think we could pass it, it would die on its own accord and not take everything else down with it.

With that in mind, we have crafted seven different pieces of legislation. That legislation is currently being put into Routing Slip (RS) form by legislative services and we hope to print them this week.

Here are the separate pieces of legislation:
Administrative Leave and the Ability to Manage the Length and Terms of a Teacher Contract. This bill would indicate that if an employee has a court order that does not allow him or her to be on the school grounds and would keep them from complying with the conditions of their contract, then the school district can place them on unpaid administrative leave. The school district should not be responsible for paying the salary of any individual who cannot meet the terms of their contract and then pay for a substitute as well. That is not a good use of tax payer dollars. In addition, school districts need to have the flexibility in local governance to manage the long-term prudent fiscal affairs of their school districts. That means they need to have the ability from year to year, based on the funding at hand, to reduce or lengthen the term of a contract and for that contract to be of greater, lesser, or equal salary as that in the current contract.

Open Negotiations and Final Offer. This bill would require that all negotiations be held in public and that posting requirements be followed. In addition, if no agreement is reached by both parties, then the locally elected school board members, whose responsibility it is to manage the finances of the district, will have the authority to operate under the terms of the district’s last offer at negotiations.

De Novo Hearings. Any school district employee has the right to appeal to a district court the decision made by the board of trustees in any grievance proceeding. Currently, when that appeal occurs, a completely new trial begins with the district court. That is unlike any other proceeding for state, county, or city employees. What occurs with other entities is that the record from the local level proceeding is forwarded to the district court. The district court judge can either affirm the decision or set it aside and remand it back to the local entity upon certain grounds. This bill would simply ask that grievances in school districts be treated in the same manner as state employees rather than having a completely new trial begin.

One Year Agreements. This bill will require that all master agreements have a beginning date of July 1 and an end date of June 30. It will prohibit the use of what is commonly known as the “evergreen clause”.

Reduction in Force/Seniority. This bill sets out the procedures for reduction in force. It will allow the board of trustees the ability to include any factors, and not be limited to just seniority.

Proof of 50% + 1 to Open Negotiations and Proof of Majority Ratification. This bill would require the local education organization (LEO) to prove they represent 50% + 1 of the certified staff in their district. They would need to do this annually and would need to provide written evidence on a form approved by the school district. In addition, once an agreement is reached, both the school district and the LEO would need to provide written proof that the agreement has been ratified by their respective memberships.

Contract Return Dates. This bill sets out the timelines for the return of teacher contracts and aligns those dates with the one-year agreements. In addition, it allows for teacher contracts to either be delivered electronically, return receipt requested or to send them by certified mail, return receipt requested.

Once all the legislation has been printed, we will forward links to all of you so you can go to the web and view the actual language.

Non-Certificated Personnel Grievance

This legislation will change the reasons that a non-certificated employee can file a grievance. This is the continuation of a resolution that expired last year. Currently, a non-certificated employee can file a grievance for “unfair treatment”. However, that term is not defined. The new language would only allow an employee to file a grievance if they believe the Board of Trustees has violated their own policy. The grievance would need to identify the policy that has been violated.

Increasing Supplemental Levies to Three (3) Years

This legislation would allow school districts to run a supplemental levy for 1, 2, or 3 years. Currently, the maximum length of time for a supplemental levy is two years. We have had this resolution before and have been unable to find a sponsor for the legislation. The Boundary County School District is currently working to find a sponsor.

Building Requirements for Non-Student Occupied Buildings

This legislation would allow for an exemption from the public works licenses associated with the construction, repair, or improvement of a non-student occupied building like a bus barn or storage facility. In addition, they would also be exempt from the laws related to bidding for the construction of these facilities. We have forwarded this legislation to the Division of Building Safety to see if they have comments or concerns and the Potlatch School District is working to find a sponsor.

New Legislators and Leadership May Have an Impact on Legislation

One thing we all need to be aware of is the impact all the new legislators and House Leadership could have on any legislation. We will likely be calling on some of you to contact your legislators to ask for their support of our legislation as it moves its way through the system.

There is a ton of information and legislation moves through the legislature in a very short time frame. It is really like trying to drink water from a fire hose. School board members can have an enormous impact on the outcome of that legislation by contacting their local legislators and letting them know the impact on your local school district.

We are doing our part here at the Capitol. We are taking the time to introduce ourselves to all the new legislators and making sure they know they can contact us if they have questions. We want to make sure they have the correct information and understand the ramifications of all our legislation.

In addition, we are working closing with Leadership in both chambers and the Chairs of the Education Committees as we begin to craft our legislation and move it through the system. We are still early in the process but, thus far, we are receiving positive feedback.

If you want to view the actual language of any piece of legislation, click here. You can search by topic or the actual bill number.

Karen Echeverria

Karen Echeverria

Karen Echeverria retired as the executive director of the Idaho School Boards Association.

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