Today the Examiner-Enterprise featured a letter from local school board member Doug Divelbiss, rebutting my prior letter about Senate Bill 834. His letter was respectful but did not take into account that my letter was composed before the House version of the bill had been amended (the Examiner-Enterprise took almost a week to publish it). His letter also failed to recognize that the Senate version of the bill still lacks crucial requirements for teacher certification, personnel evaluations, and minimum graduation standards. If the House version passes, the two differing versions must be reconciled. The minimal protections Mr. Divelbiss appears to support might not survive that process.
Mr. Divelbiss also was misinformed that the amended House version provides for collective bargaining. Neither version of the bill provides for collective bargaining. So in its current form, Senate Bill 834 would strip all Oklahoma teachers of their right to bargain salaries and working conditions.
I certainly respect Mr. Divelbiss, with whom I have served on a vital district budget committee. He has been a good board member, and I emailed him and the other board members tonight, pointing out the above issues and asking them if they would endorse a collective bargaining amendment in the bill. During my tenure as Chief Negotiator, our union local and school board bargaining teams were recognized by the board’s hired negotiator, the state union’s advisor, and federal mediators as having one of the best bargaining relationships in our state. I hope our board members recognize the value of such a relationship.
But Bartlesville is not like many other Oklahoma communities. Ponca City, which has suffered devastating job losses this year, saw its teacher association and school board go to impasse and arbitration over a contract provision. The arbitrator ruled against the board, but it exercised its right to impose its own contract condition anyway. Consider the morale of the teachers in that district. Do you think that board of education will respect their needs under Senate Bill 834?
Mr. Divelbiss reframed the Senate Bill 834 issue into one of local versus state control. I strongly disagree with the level of deregulation under SB 834, since past behavior is the best predictor of future behavior and many boards of education have made crucial educational mistakes until state regulations imposed needed corrections. But I can certainly empathize with responsible board of education members who are frustrated by some of our unfunded and ill-considered state mandates.
The full House will consider the bill as early as next Tuesday or Wednesday. Please contact your state legislator and let him or her know that you think teachers should have a voice at the bargaining table. If they don’t, there will be little incentive for them to stay in Oklahoma when it pays so poorly and neighboring states not only pay far better but also provide seniority, tenure, and bargaining rights.