Sides square off over teacher negotiations

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By Damon Lawrence

The president of the Roane County Education Association is no fan of the bill that would abolish teachers unions’ ability to negotiate with local boards of education.

In fact, Jeff Davis, RCEA president and a teacher at Rockwood High School, called the bill a blatant attack on the Tennessee Education Association and its members.

“I have not spoken to a teacher, Republican or Democrat, who is in favor of giving up the rights and the voice in education that he or she and TEA have worked so diligently to gain,” Davis said. “In a time when we are striving to improve education and move forward into the future, it is inconceivable to send the teaching profession back into the past and expect favorable results.”

Republicans have a lock on state government with control of the Governor’s Mansion, House of Representatives and Senate.

Gov. Bill Haslam wants to increase the probationary period for teacher tenure from three years to five years.

“We want to take teaching and treat it like a profession,” Haslam said in an interview posted on the  YouTube channel TN Report TV. “I don’t know any of the other professions that have a situation like tenure.”  

Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, a Blountville Republican, said the move is about improving education.

“There’s been a couple of sacred cows over the years that you just don’t talk about when you start talking about education,” Ramsey said in an interview posted on the YouTube channel TN Report TV. “That is collective bargaining and tenure, and we’re addressing both of those this year, I think, with the ultimate goal of making education better in the state of Tennessee.”

State Sen. Dolores Gresham, R-Somerville, has sponsored a bill that would prevent TEA and the Tennessee Retired Teachers Association from selecting its representatives to the Tennessee Consolidated Retirement System.

Julia Hurley, a Lenoir City Republican who represents Roane County in the House, is a co-sponsor of the bill that would strip teachers’ unions of their ability to negotiate.  

Neither she nor Republican state Sen. Ken Yager of Harriman returned a reporter’s phone calls before deadline seeking details on their positions.

“All of these bills serve but one purpose — to eliminate the Tennessee Education Association and silence the voice of teachers,” Davis said. “The Republicans want to run education like a business. The education of our children, the molding of young minds and the shaping of this state and this country’s future is not a business.”

RCEA, which Davis said has around 500 members, is an affiliate of TEA.   

“TEA’s purpose is to help teachers protect their rights, receive a fair wage, be safe in their schools and their classrooms and have due process rights in personnel issues,” Davis said.

Davis’ entire comments on the issue can be found in a lettter to the editor on Page 4.