Kansas bill would narrow talks between teachers, schools

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TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Representatives of Kansas school boards and teachers unions told a House panel Wednesday that a bill designed to streamline their negotiations would make it harder for both sides to pursue their interests.

The bill would remove 30 issues from a list of things over which the teachers unions and school boards would be required to bargain, leaving only salary and work hours on the annual bargaining agenda. Both sides would have to agree beforehand to discuss benefits, safety or other issues.

"What the superintendents were looking for was a way to maximize their ability to make student-focused decisions on how to best organize and operate their school districts," said Dave Trabert, president of the conservative Kansas Policy Institute, who was the only person to speak in favor of the bill.

But representatives of both sides testified to the House Education Committee that they oppose the bill because they already agreed last month to narrow their discussions in a different way. Under their compromise, each side would be allowed to bring five issues to the table for negotiations.

Mark Desetti, a lobbyist for the state's largest teachers union, the Kansas National Education Association, said that under the proposed bill, school boards could block all negotiation on issues like sick leave, insurance or overtime. Likewise, he said, the teachers would be able to block negotiations on issues the school boards wanted on the agenda, but both sides could bring their interests to the table under the recently reached compromise.

Bills reflecting the compromise have been submitted to the House and Senate.

But Trabert said school board officials had told him they were dissatisfied with the compromise and wanted a more streamlined process.

Mark Tallman of the Kansas Association of School Boards said he wasn't aware of superintendents speaking out, but said the school boards stand by the agreement.

"This compromise was acceptable to our members and our board of directions, and, to be very clear, our position was that if this passes we won't support anything else," Tallman said.

Rep. Ron Highland, a Wamego Republican who is chairman of the committee, said he still needed time to evaluate the compromise between the school boards and unions, but said he personally feels, "the fewer items you negotiate the quicker things are going to go."

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