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Tuesday, December 04, 2012 11:06 AM

Kansas school boards want to change union bargaining

By The Associated Press

TOPEKA — The Kansas Association of School Boards will pursue changes to legislation governing negotiations with unions that likely would meet with strong resistance from teachers.

At its annual convention last weekend in Topeka, the association solidified plans to lobby lawmakers concerning teacher evaluations. KASB would like the Legislature to remove evaluations from the list of items that must be collectively bargained with teachers.

The proposal sparked concern from the representatives of some school boards — including Topeka Unified School District 501 — but the majority voted in favor of proceeding.

Kansas school districts are in the process of refashioning evaluation methods for educators and administrators. By the 2014-2015 school year, districts must meet a set of federal requirements tied to the state’s No Child Left Behind waiver. The requirements include evaluating teachers in part based on the progress of their students, an element that has been controversial in a number of states.

Mark Tallman, associate executive director of advocacy at KASB, said the association was concerned that some districts would have trouble implementing the changes.

“Local school boards are responsible for student outcomes,” Tallman said. “We don’t think it’s appropriate to say that boards have to negotiate to adopt new, stronger requirements.”

KASB considers teacher input on evaluations important, he said, but believes that evaluations should be discussed separately from professional negotiations that could tie in other employment issues.

But some board delegates opposed pursuing a change in legislation, and they expressed concern that doing so would create unnecessary tension with teachers and teacher associations.

Tom Brungardt, a delegate from Geary County USD 475, said he didn’t agree with the KASB plan that removing evaluations from professional negotiations would “facilitate improvement in instruction.”

“I wondered whether it would do that,” Brungardt, who argued against the changes at the convention, said. “There’s been no research to show that.”

USD 501 school board president Patrick Woods voted on behalf of his board against pursuing the legislative changes.

Woods said the board hadn’t discussed the motion formally, but that the district hadn’t had problems negotiating past evaluation matters with teachers.

“By saying we would remove evaluations from the negotiable items, that would probably send up too much of a red flag for our teachers,” Woods said. “Our board looks to work collaboratively with them.”

In addition to seeking the changes in professional negotiations, KASB will push for student learning to be the most important factor of teacher evaluations — something not required by the federal government.

“From our viewpoint, one would ask, what else should be the primary factor?” Tallman said.

But Peg Dunlap, director of instructional advocacy at the Kansas National Education Association, said it was still unclear what student progress entailed and how to measure it.

“What does student learning look like? State assessments?” she asked. “Does it include other assessments? Citizenship? How kids interact with each other?”

Dunlap also said the KNEA considers the process of negotiating evaluations to be crucial because it ensures input from teachers chosen by their peers.

“Otherwise it is easy for boards to cherry-pick people,” she said. “It only makes sense for the people being evaluated to have a role to play in these discussions.”

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