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Rapidly Changing Idaho Laws Make Teacher Contract Negotiations Confusing

Adam Cotterell
Boise State Public Radio

Each year the state of Idaho sends school districts about $900 million for teacher salaries and benefits. This is the time of year when decisions are made on how to spend that. Many Idaho school districts are in contract negotiations with teachers unions now. But those negotiations are complicated by changes to the laws.

The Students Come First laws, passed in 2011, made huge changes to negotiations. But last fall voters repealed those laws. Then this year Idaho’s legislature passed several more laws that impact negotiations. Many came from Students Come First. But by the time those passed, the state’s largest school district was already negotiating for next year.

“Negotiations have kind of changed and morphed as we’ve gone due to the laws and the changing of the rules,” says Luke Franklin, president of the Meridian Education Association.

Franklin says the rapid changes to the laws have made negotiations difficult and confusing, especially “because now what we’re seeing is pieces of the law (Students Come First) being brought back in and other pieces not,” he says. “Some of these had emergency clauses some didn’t.”

Emergency clauses mean laws go into effect immediately. Without them new laws don’t count until July.

A Meridian district spokesman did not respond to a question asking if the district felt confused about the changing laws. But Meridian is using a lawyer to negotiate this year. Last year the district used a lawyer for negotiations rather than district administrators as usual. The spokesman said then it was to avoid inadvertently violating terms of the still unfamiliar laws.

In Nampa a district spokesperson says the Students Come First repeal created confusion, but the laws passed this year clarified some things. A Nampa Education Association representative says the opposite; the new laws have made things difficult.

Nampa hasn’t started negotiating. The state’s third largest district was waiting for the legislature to end. When lawmakers went home the Nampa district put one of the new laws into play.  The district asked the union to prove it represented a majority of teachers. That was something required under Students Come First. But after November’s repeal unions thought they would not have to do it again.

In Boise contract negotiations have been going on for about a month. A district spokesman says the rapidly changing laws have not created any undue difficulties.

Copyright 2013 Boise State Public Radio