Steve Rose — Teachers have little to fear, and much to like, in Kansas’ new school funding measure

04/29/2014 5:44 PM

04/29/2014 5:46 PM

Teachers of Johnson County, like many teachers throughout Kansas, have been whipped into a frenzy over the latest school funding law just passed and signed by the governor

They can relax.

If Johnson County school districts are any indication, the language in the bill that denies due process to teachers with tenure is merely symbolic. Conservatives were sending a message that they want bad teachers out, and they believe the teachers union is blocking that effort.

But at least in Johnson County, nothing will really change.

According to the superintendents of the three major school districts in Johnson County — Olathe, Shawnee Mission and Blue Valley — there will be no impact in their districts in the “due process” procedures for teachers who have tenure.

In the meantime, teachers in Johnson County, where districts will almost certainly raise local taxes to the maximum allowed under the new law, will come out ahead. That’s because each superintendent has said that raising teacher salaries will be a high priority.

Two superintendents — Blue Valley and Olathe — said their additional funding will go primarily, if not totally, to teacher salaries. Shawnee Mission, according to its superintendent, will also prioritize teacher salaries, but will look at all-day kindergarten and reducing fees as well.

Teachers in all three districts have received no raises or minimal raises over the past several years.

Even with these imminent raises, longtime teachers are still fearful of the other part of the bill — the one that claims to eliminate due process for teachers with tenure.

I asked each superintendent to explain why due process will not be an issue in their districts.

Jim Hinson, superintendent of the Shawnee Mission School District, said that neither the superintendent nor the school board can fire a teacher. If there were a problem teacher, that individual would go before a third-party mediator, and whatever the mediator decides would be binding. Hinson said he sees no changes to that policy.

Tom Trigg, superintendent of the Blue Valley School District said, “The last time Blue Valley held a due process hearing was in 2004, and I don’t foresee that happening again.” Trigg said they work with problem educators, and eventually if there is no improvement “the teacher inevitably finds another career.”

Marlin Berry, superintendent of the Olathe School District, confirmed that, to his knowledge, there has never been a due process hearing. (He has been with the district since 2007.)

Olathe’s procedure, should a problem case arise, is unusual. “We have a joint assistance panel,” he explained. He said it is made up of teachers and administrators who work with struggling educators.

“We’ve always managed to improve performance or gain a resignation,” said Berry.

As I wrote in an earlier column, the bill that came out of Topeka is a winner for Johnson County teachers. The teachers union, Kansas National Education Association, apparently doesn’t want to be confused with the facts.

KNEA is stirring up teachers and staging protests, and will be out pounding on doors, as well as funding campaigns during the November election. If history is any guide, they will be working hard to defeat conservative Republicans in the Legislature, as well as the governor, who they see as their enemies, because they do not feel there is strong enough support for public schools.

KNEA will try to galvanize the teachers in Johnson County by distorting and exaggerating a new law that really benefits them. The union will not talk about the raises teachers will get, and they will ignore the actual reality of the due process issue — or non-issue — in this community.

Teachers in Johnson County should not get swept up in the propaganda. They can like or dislike certain legislators or the governor. But this particular bill should not be used as a weapon, when Johnson County teachers actually come out ahead.

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