Members of the DeKalb County Board of Education and Director of Schools Mark Willoughby gathered with their counterparts from across the state in Nashville on February 22nd for a day of legislative networking at TSBA's annual "Day on the Hill" event. This year, featured program speakers included Lieutenant Governor Ron Ramsey, House Speaker Beth Harwell, Senate Education Committee Chair Dolores Gresham, and House Education Committee Chair Richard Montgomery.
"Day on the Hill" is designed for school board members and directors of schools to study pending education legislation and discuss priorities with local legislators. The event began with a breakfast at the Downtown Sheraton Hotel and was followed by visits to legislators' offices and committee hearings.
"Day on the Hill" provides a unique opportunity for school board members throughout the state to promote public education and seek assistance from the General Assembly with one collective voice", said TSBA President and Oneida Special school board member Nancy Williamson. "A quality public education system is essential to the future economic development of our state, and every citizen has a vested interest in its success. We look forward to partnering with the General Assembly to continue improving the quality of schools in Tennessee."
In addition to Director Willoughby, Charles Robinson, chairman of the DeKalb County Board of Education attended along with Kenny Rhody, vice-chair, and John David Foutch, first district member.
Rhody said the "Day on the Hill" provides a great opportunity for local board members to exchange ideas with state legislators. "To sit down with your elected representatives and discuss our needs with them in detail is so important", said Rhody. "The squeaky wheel gets the grease theme is still important when dealing with funding or the lack thereof. If we don't stand up for what is right for our children, who will?. We must provide what they need for their future, and ours. To bring back federal and state dollars to our county and state is what has worked well for DeKalb County for 40 plus years and we must keep bringing our money back to work for us. The local tax base should not and cannot fund everything our kids need. That's why working with our elected representatives and senators is so important now."
In addition to serving as Chairman of the DeKalb County Board of Education, Robinson is a member of the Tennessee School Board Association Board of Directors, serving as the board's TLN representative. Robinson is also a Master School Board member.
During the recent 2010 TSBA Annual Convention, Robinson was named to the All Tennessee School Board.
Each year, TSBA recognizes five to seven outstanding school board members as members of the annual All Tennessee School Board. These individuals demonstrate the dedication, professionalism, and vision needed to take public education to the highest level.
Rhody, meanwhile, recently earned the designation of Master Board Member, having reached the fifth and highest level in TSBA's Boardsmanship Program. The program is designed to recognize school board members for participation in board activities beyond the local level through a commitment to training, willingness to participate in workshops and conferences and a volunteer spirit.
To obtain Level V, board members must earn at least 250 credits in three areas, including attendance at school board academies; participation in activities such as the TSBA Annual Convention, leadership conferences and workshops; and completion of activities such as speaking to civic clubs or meeting with legislators. Candidates must complete a portfolio detailing their accomplishments.
Rhody was also recently elected to serve as the Upper Cumberland Federal Relations Network district coordinator at the TSBA Fall District Meeting. The FRN promotes communication with the Tennessee Congressional delegation to explain the impact of federal education policy on local school districts.
Several local educators are expected to join teachers from across the state during a Tennessee Education Association sponsored rally Saturday in Nashville in support of teacher rights.
Local teachers and supporters are asked to meet in the parking lot of DeKalb County High School at 9:30 a.m. Saturday morning. The caravan will depart around 9:45 a.m. to join the rally, which will take place from noon until 3:00 p.m. at Legislative Plaza in downtown Nashville.
Eric Sanders, President of the DeKalb County Education Association told WJLE Thursday that local educators are concerned about several education reform bills pending in the legislature, that if approved, would affect teachers. "There's been several bills introduced in the 107th Tennessee General Assembly that attack public school educators and the TEA's basic philosophies. We believe reaching out to the legislators could help make a difference in whether those bills are passed or not."
John Isabell, DCEA building rep for DCHS said among the bills teachers are concerned about is the teacher tenure law and legislation that would affect teacher's collective bargaining rights." One of the bills we're concerned about is changing teacher tenure law, extending it from three years being a teacher before you are granted tenure to five years, perhaps even more. I think most people don't understand the tenure law and what it is. Most people feel that tenure law is something that allows teachers to, once they have achieved it, to never be removed from the teaching position when, in actuality all tenure law is, is the right for teachers to have a due process hearing should there be an attempt to remove them from the position."
"Another bill would strip teachers of the right to collectively bargain with school boards. Locally, we don't negotiate but its presence is felt. I think it helps maintain a healthy respect between school boards and the teachers. We don't want to lose this right to negotiate. It is very important to teachers. It's our primary voice within the school system," said Isabell
"There's another bill that's designed to remove the voice of TEA, who represent the majority of teachers in the state, from having representation on the state retirement fund advisory council. They want to basically remove any voice we have regarding our retirement benefits," said Isabell
Sanders added that "one bill would prohibit payroll deduction for public employees. This bill has nothing to do with education reform but it takes away the right of the teachers to have their payroll deduction and their dues for the association."
Sanders invites all teachers and supporters in the area to join the caravan Saturday morning. "Join us. We're starting a caravan at DCHS on Saturday morning at 9:30 a.m. We'll be leaving at 9:45 a.m. headed to the capitol in Nashville. The march is from noon until 3:00 p.m."
Isabell added "In part, we're trying to get folks a better understanding of what teachers are standing for and what the legislation seems to be wanting to do, which is to silence our voices. We are the key component within the education system and we simply want to have our voices be a part of the overall process. This rally is an opportunity for a lot of people to show their support for teachers and for other organizations as well. It's my understanding that we may have policemen groups, firemen groups, and others who will also be joining to put their voices together as a part of this support because if they take away our rights, other rights can be taken away as well."
Under Governor Bill Haslam's proposed teacher tenure reform legislation, teachers would become eligible for tenure after five years, rather than three years and they could also lose that status if they rank poorly for two consecutive years.
On the issue of collective bargaining, one bill proposed would prohibit any local board of education from negotiating with a professional employees' organization or teachers' union concerning the terms or conditions of professional service on or after the effective date of this bill.
Under present law, the Education Professional Negotiations Act gives any person employed by a local board of education (LEA) or charter school who has a position that requires a license issued by the department of education for service in public elementary and secondary schools of this state the rights to self-organization, to form, join or be assisted by professional employees' organizations, to negotiate through representatives of their own choosing and to engage in other concerted activities for the purpose of professional negotiations or other mutual aid or protection. The board of education and the recognized professional employees' organization must negotiate in good faith the following conditions of employment: salaries or wages; grievance procedures; insurance; fringe benefits; working conditions; leave; student discipline procedures; and payroll deductions.
This bill removes all rights and requirements under present state law regarding such professional employees, professional employees' organizations, and negotiations between such organizations and the board of education or the governing body of the charter school. However, this bill would not abridge or impair a contract or agreement governing terms and conditions of professional service entered into by a board of education and a recognized professional employees' organization under the Education Professional Negotiations Act before the effective date of this bill. Any such contract or agreement would remain in full force and effect until the expiration of the contract or agreement. Upon the expiration of a contract or agreement negotiated by a board of education and a professional employees' organization, teachers employed by such board of education would have the rights in their employment that are afforded to them under state and federal law and the personnel policy applicable to them.
Other bills teachers are concerned about include legislation that would make it illegal for labor organizations to contribute to political candidates for public office; and a bill that would prohibit public employees from having a payroll deduction to a political action committee or for dues for membership organizations that use funds for political activities.