Michigan Democrats vote to give teachers more say in classroom placement
- Six Democrats voted to advance a series of bills aimed to increase teacher say in district decisions.
- Three Republicans voted against the bills.
- Generally, teacher unions support the bills while superintendents are opposed to aspects of the bills.
LANSING - The House Labor Committee voted along party lines Thursday to expand the collective bargaining rights of teacher unions and their employers.
House Bills 4354 and 4355 would allow unions and districts to bargain over what classes teachers teach, how teacher evaluations look and several other decisions.
Democrats have framed opening bargaining up to these topics as a way to increase teachers’ voices in key school district decisions, potentially retain more teachers and restore key bargaining rights that unions lost in 2011 during a series of education reforms.
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But generally, superintendents oppose the measures saying that allowing unions and districts to bargain over what classes teachers teach would lead to a system based on teacher seniority, which they say would harm younger teachers.
“While the nation is experiencing teacher shortages, treating educational professionals like cogs in a machine will only increase the exodus of devoted educators,” Grand Rapids Education Association Member and eighth grade science teacher Wendy Winston said Thursday. “Our teachers deserve transfer and placement procedures that are clear and fair. Mutually agreed upon language will protect staff and students from arbitrary and capricious involuntary transfers.”
Rep. Tom Kunse, R-Clare, and two other Republicans voted against the bills. He said he believes opening bargaining over teacher placement will lead to a seniority-based system where teachers with more experience get first pick on what classes they teach.
“What they’ve done is they’ve made it bad for young teachers…they don’t have the fortitude to say how we’re going to place teachers,” he told Bridge Michigan.
The bills would also allow for bargaining over teacher evaluations. Democrats are expected to introduce separate legislation soon that would alter the state’s evaluation system which administrators say is cumbersome and teacher unions argue needs to be reworked. Kunse told Bridge he is open to reforming the evaluation process for teachers.
The House Labor Committee heard testimony from several teacher union leaders who spoke of instances where educators received little notice before being assigned a different subject or grade level.
Michigan Association of School Boards Director of Government Relations Jennifer Smith acknowledged that sometimes these decisions are made but that they are done in response to factors superintendents can’t control.
“So while best efforts are made to create schedules and calendars and all of that in the spring and early summer, it's not always possible,” she told the committee. “And we can't control when a teacher may resign or decide to retire or take that other position.”
In an effort to expand bargaining rights further, the committee also voted in 6-3 votes to advance House Bills 4356 and 4357. These bills would allow districts and unions to bargain over non instructional support services.
Data suggests that the majority of districts are already paying contractors to help with these services such as cafeteria workers, custodians and bus drivers.
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