Kansas teachers union sues state over termination law

08/11/2014 12:32 PM

08/11/2014 4:08 PM

A Kansas teachers union went to court Monday morning seeking to restore a law that gave them job protection.

The Kansas National Education Association filed a lawsuit in Shawnee County District Court asking a judge to declare unconstitutional a new law that strips teachers of a right to a hearing before they are fired.

The association argues the law is unconstitutional because it came out of a bill that grouped multiple topics together, including funding for schools and corporate tax credits to encourage school choice.

The bill stemmed from a state Supreme Court ruling that ordered the Kansas Legislature to mend a spending gap between rich and poor school districts.

Lawmakers approved the money but also eliminated a law that gave teachers the right to hearings if they are fired and had been on the job at least three years.

Teachers have accused conservative lawmakers and Republican Gov. Sam Brownback of exploiting the Supreme Court ruling to enact new education policies they have long coveted.

“Extreme special-interest legislators saw this as an opportunity to ignore the state constitution by turning an appropriations bill into one that included harmful policy,” the teachers’ union said in a statement.

“We ask why Governor Brownback and his allies in the Legislature felt it was appropriate to ignore constitutional rule as they log-rolled unrelated policy into an appropriations bill?”

Brownback called the lawsuit “little more than an exercise in labor union politics.” He warned the lawsuit might endanger the $129 million in extra school funding approved by the Legislature.

“I am concerned this misdirected lawsuit may cast doubt on, or unwittingly endanger, school funding just as classrooms are convening all across Kansas,” the governor said in a statement.

The lawsuit is targeting only the due-process requirement that the Legislature eliminated.

Statistics tracked by the Kansas Association of School Boards reveal that few teachers ask for an appeals hearing.

From the 2009-2010 school year through 2012-2013, there have been 15 hearings held either for a teacher’s contract not being renewed for being terminated, according to the school boards association.

Supporters of eliminating the hearing requirement say it protected bad teachers and drove up the cost of getting rid of them.

For example, the Shawnee Mission School District spent about $55,000 defending its decision four years ago to fire a middle school teacher who was accused of repeatedly making sexually charged remarks in class.

The case went to an arbitrator, who ruled in favor of the district. The case took almost nine months to resolve before the firing was upheld.

To reach Brad Cooper, call 816-234-7724 or send email to bcooper@kcstar.com.

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