Teacher’s Unions are the scapegoat of the day. National commentators lament New York’s "rubber rooms." In Florida and Colorado, legislators strip away teacher tenure. The Wisconsin governor blames teachers for draining public funds.
Kansans should find these charges strange.
New York City had a bad situation. Teachers considered incompetent sat in a "rubber room" drawing an income until some day they had a competency hearing . This situation in New York ended in April of 2010 but lives on as anti-teacher propaganda.
Kansas has no "rubber room" teachers. Kansas teachers can be and are fired for incompetence, moral turpitude, and insubordination (failure to carry out school duties). It takes a competent administrator to fire an incompetent teacher, tenured or not. It merely takes documentation and due process.
There is another problem for school administrators in rural districts with pay schedules substantially lower than in our rich suburbs. If they have a teacher who is not inspiring students or teaching as well as they should, the administrator has to consider who they can get to replace the. In shortage disciplines, the few new teachers are snapped up by more affluent schools. Firing a tenured teacher or non-renewing a new teacher may not result in better teaching if there is no better candidate available to take the position. And the recent national animosity toward teachers ensures that there will be even greater teacher shortages tomorrow.
No, Kansas is not New York City.
In Kansas, each school district has its own pay scale. "Negotiations" are at the local school board level. The teacher contract is an agreement entered into by individual teachers and the local Board of Education. If local negotiations are at an impasse, then teachers continue under the prior contract unless conditions are changed by mutual consent. Teachers’ contracts require them to be present each day of scheduled class. Over 30 years ago, a Kansas court found that if a teacher failed to report for work even one day as a protest, it was a breach of contract and a basis for dismissal. Thus in Kansas, strikes and work stoppages are not allowed.
So no, Kansas is not Wisconsin.
In business, there is a saying: "You are not paid what you deserve; you are paid what you negotiate." As teachers, we already have limited negotiating power. Taking it completely away makes us "wage slaves." This is a term from the early 1900s, the era of worker oppression portrayed in "Grapes of Wrath." It boils down to the ability to offer teachers a much lower salary and cut benefits: "Take it or leave it. We will get someone else—qualified or a substitute—to fill the job." Such an attitude completely forgets our students. Teachers are no longer considered professionals.
But this last week, one Kansas teacher voiced to me an attitude that puts students first.
The Kansas K-12 education budget appears likely to be slashed by at least eight percent. Since education funding is mostly payroll, this dramatic cut would mean the loss of teachers. "Next year is going to be a bloodbath. The...ones who are going to suffer are the kids. They are losing the truly great things about school in this mess. We are considering cutting librarians, music programs in elementary schools, extra-curriculars, not to mention a giant chunk of special education."
Many schools issue a survey to poll what should be cut. My teacher colleague continues: "I’d be interested to know what percentage of teachers would take a pay-cut to save some of these things.... I’d seriously consider a pay-cut if it meant I knew kids were going to get the same shot at a great experience in school like mine."
Kansas is not New York City or Wisconsin. Nor should Kansas teachers become wage slaves. Those at the national level who want to end teachers’ limited power to negotiate fail to recognize that teachers will negotiate in our students’ best interests.