State law should give school boards more local control

Lindsay Russell Dexter Articles

Teachers unions are a significant political force across the nation. In Idaho, local education organizations (LEOs) assume that role and most LEOs are affiliated with the Idaho Education Association (IEA). LEOs are tasked with one job: to protect the welfare of their members. Make no mistake about it, LEOs allegiances are not to the education of public school students but rather to the members they represent.  

How do LEOs weld their political power? Specifically, how do LEOs gain the authority to negotiate with school districts on behalf of all professional employees, which include teachers?

The answer can be found in Idaho State Statute. Idaho Code 33-1271 lays out the powers of Idaho’s local education organizations to negotiate with the school districts on behalf of the district’s professional employees. One of the provisions within the statute mandates that the board of trustees of each school district enter into negotiations, for teacher salaries and the like, with local education organizations or the designated representatives of such organizations.

Most importantly, Idaho Code 33-1271 does not allow a district’s board of trustees the option to enter into negotiations with local education organizations: It is required. Because state statute requires a district’s participation in negotiations, LEOs are able to force their will on teachers and other professional employees, rather than relying on the merit of the services they provide. A better option would be to change state statute to say that a district’s board of trustees “may” enter into negotiations rather than “shall.”

Mandating that school boards enter into negotiations with LEOs is problematic. LEOs are not elected positions. There are no laws that require LEOs to be accountable for their negotiation demands and only flimsy open meeting laws allow the public to attend negotiation meetings between school boards and LEOs. However, the public is not afforded the opportunity to formally testify or voice opinions.

If parents in Idaho Falls School District 91 do not approve of fiscally unsound demands made by representatives of the LEO, they have no recourse to vote them out and replace them with someone who may be more in tune with the fiscal burdens already placed on Idaho Falls residents. Conversely, Lisa Burtenshaw who is District 91’s school board chair, can be elected or removed from office at the will of the people.

Idaho state law should be amended to give school boards the option to negotiate with LEOs by simply replacing “shall” with “may” in Idaho Code 33-1271.

Providing school boards with the choice to negotiate with LEOs will provide for greater transparency and oversight of this important process. Additionally, amending the Idaho Code will give school boards the local control they should already be able to exert through their elected positions.

Note: This blog is part one of a three part series.