NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A proposal to repeal Tennessee teachers’ collective bargaining rights passed the Senate 18-14 on Monday after a measure failed that would allow school boards to maintain them if they choose.
The measure proposed by Republican Sen. Jack Johnson of Franklin would require school boards to adopt — or develop — a “professional employee manual that contains … procedures for establishing policies relative to the employment and working conditions.”
The manual to be developed by the Tennessee Organization of School Superintendents would include procedures for terms and conditions relative to salaries, benefits, grievance procedures, insurance and working conditions.
The unsuccessful amendment by Democratic Senate Minority Leader Jim Kyle of Memphis would allow school boards to opt out.
“If a people in a community like the system they have, who are we to tell them no,” he said.
Johnson emphasized that school boards don’t have to use the organization’s manual, but can create their own.
“It’s a template, a model,” Johnson said.
Sen. Doug Overbey of Maryville, the only Republican who voted against the proposal, said one reason he opposes it is because there’s no provision to make sure the organization follows through with production.
He also said the timing is bad because of recent changes that have already been made regarding education in Tennessee. Some such changes allowed the state to win $500 million in the national Race to the Top education grant competition, and a measure signed into law this year that would make it tougher for teachers to obtain and keep tenure.
“There may be a time for this bill, but I don’t think it’s now,” he said. “With all the changes we’ve made, we need to be reaching out and asking teachers for their cooperation.”
Several Democrats stood on the Senate floor and argued passionately against the proposal. Most of them agreed that it unfairly targets teachers.
“I’ve yet to talk to a teacher who doesn’t feel attacked by this legislation,” said Sen. Roy Herron, D-Dresden. “It prohibits teachers and school boards from working together in ways that they have for more than three decades.”
Said Democratic Sen. Andy Berke of Chattanooga: “Last year we had Race to the Top, this year we have dive to the bottom.”
The proposal differs from the House version that would shield certain areas — like teacher evaluation standards and merit pay — from union bargaining, but not do away with negotiations altogether. It’s scheduled for a vote in the House Finance Committee on Tuesday.
Republican House Speaker Beth Harwell — who along with Republican Gov. Bill Haslam at one time supported the House version — has signaled that she now favors the Senate version.
Johnson said he’s spoken with Harwell about his bill and she seemed favorable, “but has not given a firm commitment that she endorses it.” He said he hasn’t spoken with the governor.
Tennessee Education Association lobbyist Jerry Winters said he believes the legislation will have a tougher time in the House.
“I do know there are several legislators, including some Republicans, that do not support repealing the collective bargaining law,” he said.