TOPEKA – Kansas legislators appear to be embracing a compromise proposal to rewrite the rules for collective bargaining between teachers’ unions and school boards, rather than measures that would dramatically narrow such contract negotiations.
The House and Senate passed separate bills Thursday that reflect a compromise reached by school administrators, boards, superintendents and teachers’ unions in January.
The House voted 109-14 on its bill, and the Senate’s vote was 40-0. Negotiators from each chamber will draft the final bill.
State law currently compels the sides to bargain on 31 issues in each negotiations cycle, in addition to pay and hours. Critics say the policy leads to deadlocks and distractions in talks.
The House bill would instead instruct each side to select five mandatory topics of discussion, as well as pay and hours. The Senate bill would allow the sides to select three mandatory additional topics.
Dodie Wellshear, a lobbyist for the United School Administrators of Kansas, said the education groups were “shocked” that legislative committees earlier endorsed conservative measures that more drastically restricted collective bargaining.
In the end, the compromise language entered the House and Senate bills as amendments.
Mark Desetti, a lobbyist for Kansas National Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union, said the compromise showed the system works.
“I think process worked as it’s supposed to work. We got hurt, we got frustrated, we talked to people, people listened to us and I think the right decision was made by the House today, and I think a good decision was made by the Senate tonight,” Desetti said.
But the educators’ victory could be short lived. Despite broad support for the collective bargaining changes, he said he does not expect to have the same backing among lawmakers when it comes to avoiding potential cuts to education funding.
The state is facing budget shortfalls of nearly $600 million for the fiscal year beginning July 1.
Republican Gov. Sam Brownback has said he intends to cut $28 million from schools to fill gaps in the current budget if the Legislature does not create alternative savings.