The lawsuit announced this week against the Boise School District is one worth watching because it will have sweeping consequences throughout Idaho. While the Idaho Freedom Foundation’s complaint is directed at the Boise School District, it’s not the only school in Idaho where taxpayers are being forced to subsidize labor union organizing activities.

In Boise’s case, the school board and the Boise Education Association hatched an agreement long ago that allows a teacher to be excused from teaching to conduct union business but still remain employed by the district, remain on the government payroll and benefit from taxpayer-provided health and retirement benefits. In other words, taxpayers pay for a teacher who doesn’t teach. Instead the money and the resources go to a taxpayer-funded union boss.

This, we’ve alleged in the Boise School District lawsuit, violates the state Constitution. The constitution, borne of the days in which the railroads benefited from super cozy relationships with the government and ill-conceived funding schemes, forbids arrangements in which private organizations benefit from taxpayer support. The school district arrangement violates that covenant.

That’s not all. It not only frees a teacher from having to teach and instead pays the teacher to be a union organizer, the school board also signed off on a plan to let other teachers take paid time off to serve as delegates to the annual Idaho Education Association confab.

Other Idaho school districts also provide paid time off for union organizing purposes, although I’m not aware of any arrangement as generous as the one provided by the Boise School District. In Twin Falls, the school district provides the union president one day off per month to conduct union business.

The Pocatello-Chubbuck School District, on the other hand, grants the Pocatello Education Association president time off, but makes the association pick up the costs associated with that leave time. However, the agreement with the union still grants its members up to 30 days paid leave for association business every year. Half of those days can be used for “delegate assembly,” for which the costs of substitute teachers are the responsibility of the school district and its taxpayers.

Meanwhile, in Coeur d’Alene, that school district has agreed to release its union president for two days per week to conduct union business. Says the contract, “the cost of the first 38 days shall be paid 100 percent by the district. Any days beyond that will be paid by the association.”

To their credit, the Nampa and West Ada school districts used to make taxpayers cover costs associated with union organizing time off, but don’t any more.

Earlier this week, Superintendent of Public Instruction Sherri Ybarra announced that she’d seek another big increase in spending for public schools in Idaho. Her 7.5 percent increase (which would follow a 7.4 percent increase approved by lawmakers and the governor last winter) would pump another $110 million into state public education system. It’s hard to stomach such a request, when we know some school districts aren’t really serious about getting limited resources where they belong—the classroom.

Our public schools scream for more money all the time. They demand ever higher property tax levies and milk the state system as much cash as it will deliver. And yet some of our supposedly cash-strapped school districts still manage to free teachers up to serve as union bosses or to conduct union business.

That’s great for the labor union. It’s great for labor union bosses. It’s bad for students, and it’s bad for our education system. It should be obvious to anyone that taxpayer dollars allocated should be spent helping kids learn, not helping the union do a better job at organizing.


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