The seemingly simple policy change — removing one line from the district’s “Salary Deductions” policy — narrowly passed by a 4-3 vote Thursday night.
Assistant Director of Schools Bill Flanary said Tennessee School Board Association leaders recommended the change, among others, at a conference he attended last month.
“According to their attorney, it is no longer lawful for the Board of Education to have salary deductions for organizations that conduct political activities,” Flanary told the board before the vote. “It was recommended that we take it out completely so there’s no way we’re in conflict with the law.”
The law the school administrator referenced is known as the Professional Educators Collaborative Conferencing Act of 2011, which removed teachers’ unions’ bargaining powers and gave most of the authority over contracts and pay to district administrators.
The statute expressly forbids “payroll deductions for political activities” from being subject to collaborative conferencing.
“I think we have known all along since we lost bargaining that it was a possibility, but we had no idea it was coming last night,” Washington County Education Association President Lisa Lusk said Friday. “Now all of our membership information is due in Nashville by the first of October, and we’re going to have to do a conversion of that information to make sure it gets there on time.”
Lusk said she was “disappointed” in the board for the hurried passage of the policy change without notification or discussion with the WCEA’s more than 350 members.
“If we had known that it was coming, maybe could have talked about it and found a way to do something different,” she said. “It just seems like it’s been a very difficult time for teachers these past few years.”
Joe Crabtree, president of the Johnson City Education Association, said city school board members have not given any indication that they are considering a similar change, but said state union members have been working to set up alternative methods for paying dues since the passage of the collaborative conferencing law.
“They’ve worked over the past two years to develop a way to get membership dues paid in other ways and spending time preparing for that if it did happen,” he said. “An automatic bank draft has been suggested as an option, and that can follow the same pay dates that we all get paid on to make that easier.”
Crabtree said the TEA and its local affiliates do conduct forms of political activity, but said he opposes any laws or policy changes designed to silence educators.
“The fact of the matter is we are involved in political activity,” he said “They conduct lobbying on a daily basis and distribute information about legislation that affects students, families and teachers. It’s an important piece of what we do.
“My personal opinion is that this the laws passed in the past couple of years are designed in one way another to silence teachers’ voices,” he said. “But when they try it one way, we’re teachers, we will adapt. We’re not going to sit down and be silenced, we’re going to do what’s best for our kids.”