COEUR d'ALENE - After hearing testimony Monday from several teachers, Coeur d'Alene school board members decided against taking a united stand in support of the education reform referendums, Propositions 1, 2 and 3 on the Nov. 6 ballot.
A discussion of the referendums was placed on the meeting agenda at the request of Trustee Terri Seymour.
"I would like to at least discuss and hear what people have to say, including myself," Seymour said.
She said she would like to ask the board to endorse a yes vote on Proposition 1, at the very least.
But first, they heard from the teachers, who waited through several hours of other board business for their chance to speak on the agenda item, slated late in the meeting.
The ballot measures are veto referendums on the comprehensive package of education reforms passed into state law following legislative approval in 2011. The so-called Students Come First laws limit the bargaining powers of teachers unions, require contract negotiations be held in public, call for merit pay for teachers, advances in technology including laptops for all high school students and teachers, and make online course credit a high school graduation requirement.
Chris Inlow, a 15-year teacher, told the trustees that the union is responsible for improved working conditions, changes she has witnessed through the years.
"I really want the public and you to know you are taking away our voices," Inlow said.
Tim Sanford, director of the music program at Lake City High School and a member of the local teachers union's negotiating team, said the law sets an unrealistic timeline for contract settlement, forcing salary and benefit decisions to be made with incomplete financial information.
Sanford and other teachers said they find the pay for performance aspect of the new law offensive, and unlikely to benefit them in any way. Many of them are already doing all the things the new law requires for a teacher to receive a bonus.
Kristi Milan, president of the Coeur d'Alene Education Association, the union local, said pay for performance will not benefit children.
"It will only put more focus on a multiple choice test," Milan said.
Referring to the section of the law that calls for all high school students to be given laptop computers, several teachers said they know 14-year-old students won't be responsible with them.
Teacher Bruce Twitchell had another answer for education reform proponents' argument that students need the laptops and online credit requirement so they'll know how to take online courses in college.
"Why not just have a class, or a section, on how to take an online class?" Twitchell said.
As a teacher of online college courses, Twitchell said it's not the kids coming out of high school who have trouble with these classes; it's the older students.
The trustees shared their individual positions on the education referendums, with nearly all in support of all three propositions.
Superintendent Hazel Bauman recommended the trustees refrain from taking a stand as a board, and said it's not wise to mix politics and educating children.
"I personally think we need to honor these teachers in the room," said Trustee Jim Hightower.
The trustees thanked the teachers for coming and speaking with them.
Following the meeting, Milan said she considered it "a win" for the teachers.