Today SB 834 passed the Oklahoma House Education Committee on a party line vote of 9-5. So Earl Sears, as he had indicated to me via email beforehand, supported the legislation. I respect Earl, but he has yet to show that he respects teachers having a voice in their own destinies. He wants them to make a leap of faith in the school boards, something I know from ten years of bitter bargaining experience no school board has ever earned. The bill is now headed to a vote on the House floor.
The Good News
The bill was reportedly amended to now require:
- Certified teachers
- Maintenance of current curriculum standards including minimum graduation requirements and alternative education programs
- Continuing education courses for school board members
The Bad News
The already-weak class size guarantees established under HB 1017 almost two decades ago were not retained. None of the rights that provide a voice for teachers were reconsidered. Thus the bill would allow districts to:
- Deny teachers the opportunity to collectively bargain, thus placing all of their hard-won working conditions at risk:
- No right to bargain for compensation above the pathetic state minimum salary schedule
- No right to bargain for compensation for additional assigned duties
- No right to bargain the number of contract days in a school year
- No right to bargain the length of a school day
- No right to bargain for “frills” such as the duty-free 30-minute lunch provided for Bartlesville teachers (wow!)
- Allow school boards to freely favor certain teachers over others in salary and working conditions
- Get ready to see the “professionalization” of football and basketball coaching – don’t be surprised to see more head coaches who do not have to teach a single class and are paid far more than any teacher (we’re already effectively there in most ways in good old Bartlesville – your tax dollars at waste!)
- Deny teachers guaranteed due process upon termination. The measure was amended to provide an informal pre-termination hearing before the school board for career teachers. But that still means no trial de novo in district court, so no guarantee a teacher can bring forth witnesses, submit evidence, and confront and cross-examine witnesses.
My letter to the editor of the Examiner-Enterprise was published too late to include these latest developments. Pressure still needs to be exerted on legislators to further amend or better yet, outright kill, this bad bill. The amendments make it clear a primary purpose of this bill is to “break the union” by stripping Oklahoma teachers of their right to bargain, their seniority, and their tenure.
If this measure passes into law you can expect many highly qualified Oklahoma teachers to seek employment in neighboring states since they already pay better and will respect teacher contract conditions. Attracting good teachers into Oklahoma schools under this legislation will become quite difficult – why in the world would a college graduate choose to teach in Oklahoma if it pays far less and there is no right to bargain, no seniority, no effective tenure, and no class size limits?