Of the three Students Come First laws, Proposition 1 doesn’t have much sizzle.
It’s not as juicy as Prop 2, the teacher merit pay law, or Prop 3, the law to equip high school students with portable devices. Prop 1 deals with the likes of “evergreen clauses,” longstanding language in teacher union contracts.
“Proposition 1 is the one that most directly affects school board members and we feel like it’s the one getting the least attention,” Karen Echeverria, executive director of the Idaho School Boards Association, told the Idaho Press-Tribune this week. “It’s important for board members to educate the public on Proposition 1.”
So this week, Echeverria’s group came out in support of keeping Prop 1 on the books, while taking no position on the other two referenda that will appear on the Nov. 6 ballot. And the Boise School Board followed, quickly, with a condemnation of all three laws, including Prop 1.
Prop 3 makes for great video — as seen in the opposition TV ads depicting an accident-prone kid spilling soda on a school-issued laptop. But for the school boards, and for the teachers’ union, Prop 1 is a big deal.
To understand why, let’s refocus on the “evergreen clause.”
In the past, school boards and local unions could cut longstanding contract deals that could cover, for example, payments for a teacher who goes back to college. Once part of a collective bargaining agreement, these clauses were rolled into future contracts. “Current school boards were trapped with terms that had been bargained by boards existing 15 to 30 years ago, in a different era, and with different economic realities,” the ISBA said in a memo explaining its support of Prop 1.
Under Prop 1, any agreements are limited to one year in duration — and contract negotiations can cover only salary and benefits.
For the Idaho Education Association, the outcome of Prop 1 may not be do or die — but it’s close. This law jeopardizes existing agreements and the union’s bargaining leverage in the future. If you’re wondering why teachers’ unions are, overwhelmingly, the main contributors to the campaign opposing Students Come First, this is a pretty good indication.
What is notable is the public difference of opinion between the Boise board and the state’s school board association. The ISBA argues that Prop 1 puts local school boards back in charge of their bargaining process. The Boise board sees Prop 1 as a top-down infringement on the local bargaining process.
Basically, both sides value local control, but have very different visions of what it looks like.
The final few weeks of the campaign are unlikely to clear up the picture.
Politically speaking, the opposition is better off focusing their ads on laptops — and depicting Students Come First as a costly boondoggle. Painting the laws as an affront to collective bargaining is a non-starter in conservative Idaho.
Likewise, I’m not sure the defenders of Students Come First will take their argument much beyond boilerplate union-bashing. If there’s a substantive case that local “evergreen clauses” have bestowed lavish perks upon Idaho teachers, I’ve not heard it yet.
All of this may make Prop 1 the education overhaul law nobody talks about.