Sunday, Feb. 12, teachers and their supporters from all around Iowa met at the Iowa State Capitol. Hundreds of men, women and plenty of children marched to show legislators how important public school quality is to citizens of the state.
“I wanted lawmakers to understand that teachers are a powerful force in their communities. Teachers have many allies. I hope lawmakers understand that collaborating with communities is a better way to find the best solutions for everyone,” said Margo Frizzell, third-grade teacher at Clarke Community Elementary School.
Teachers marched in response to a state Senate File 213 and House File 291. The identically worded bills seek to change Chapter 20, collective bargaining policy, for certain public workers. The changes, aimed mostly at those working in education, would change the way employees negotiate contract details, such as salary, health care and hiring and firing practices.
“I am not an advocate for the basic gutting of the current Chapter 20 – and the process used bothers me greatly,” said Interstate 35 Community School District Superintendent Kevin Fiene.
The expediency with which the lengthy bills soared through committees has raised eyebrows across the country. More worrisome is the feeling that Chapter 20 is just one piece of a puzzle voters aren’t fully aware of.
“I think there’s probably some things that will unfold as time goes on,” said Clarke Community School District Superintendent Steve Seid. “It will be interesting to see what this domino effect might be.”
That isn’t to say administrators are completely against all the changes. The rules established by Chapter 20 are now 43 years old. Adjusting the terms might benefit teachers and their districts. It is the way the changes are being made that are putting educators on edge.
“The versions in the House and Senate were introduced with exactly the same language/verbiage,” said Fiene. “That indicates to me the decision, because of [Republicans] being the majority party in both the Senate and House, was already made behind closed doors.”
Scores of Iowans agree, and regardless of party status, have flooded the capitol to air their concerns and their criticisms.
“Teachers have always given more in order to help children be successful. Now it’s an expectation. Teachers will just give a little more to make it all work,” said Frizzell. “The problem is, there really is only so much one can give without the proper support.”
Administrators intend to make that happen.
“I do believe some of the proposed changes will provide a positive forum for discussion and potential savings to districts.With that said, we pride ourselves on promoting a family atmosphere with our staff at I-35,” said Fiene. “We will continue to do that by including our folks in discussions, albeit not negotiations, in finding ways to save money but still honor and respect our employees.”
In Clarke, a good deal of work was put into negotiations last week to ensure the wording of education staff contracts wouldn’t change, regardless of the potential new laws on their way.
“Even if this bill gets signed, we’re still going to treat our people with the utmost respect. These are our colleagues and friends,” said Seid. “We’re all in this together.”