Education

Teachers’ union quietly advancing ballot initiative that would strip power from school boards

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A pending ballot initiative is quietly seeking to expand negotiable items for teachers’ unions to include class sizes and planning and preparation periods. 

The initiative, likely advanced by the Maine Education Association (MEA), borrows language from a collective bargaining bill that failed in the legislature last year. The bill, LD 240, which passed in the House and Senate but was vetoed by Governor Janet Mills, called for class sizes, planning and preparation periods and voluntary/involuntary transfers––in addition to wages and benefits––to be subject to collective bargaining. 

During the debates on LD 240, proponents, including the MEA and a handful of teachers, argued that planning and preparation periods and class sizes are working conditions that should be open to negotiation. Teachers, they said, are often forced to plan lessons in their personal time as the demands of teaching, grading, and attending meetings dominate their work days. They advocated for teachers’ legal, mandated voices in decisions surrounding education policies. 

Opponents of the bill, including the Maine Council of School Board Attorneys and the Maine School Boards Association (MSBA), argued that teachers already have ample opportunities to express their opinions through school and policy committees, as well as public meetings. Schools boards are also required to “meet and consult” with teachers’ unions over educational policies.

The bill, opponents claimed, would also surrender public control over education to a few union members. Negotiations would take place behind closed doors, making policy private, and elected school board officials would have little say in the education of their community’s children. 

They also note that expanding the terms of bargaining will increase local education costs. The time and money spent negotiating over policy would put a burden on local taxpayers. 

Some argued that the bill would prevent schools from making swift, timely adjustments. In written testimony, the MSBA noted that LD 240 “would require negotiating virtually every decision made in the school… there will be no quick responses to fluctuating class sizes or teacher absences.” 

Others pointed out the threat the bill would pose to students with disabilities, who need teachers to play involved roles in their Individual Education Program (IEP teams). Teachers attend IEP meetings and implement classroom accommodations and special grading policies for these students. 

Editor’s Note: The Maine Wire reached out to the Department of the Secretary of State to confirm the proponent information of the initiative but did not receive a response.

About Isabelle Christie

Isabelle Christie is a senior at Marist College pursuing a degree in history and minors in communication and writing. She is currently serving as Maine Policy Institute’s summer 2020 communications intern.

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