Wednesday, February 15, 2017

This is Not Reform

It's apparently been almost six years since I've posted to this blog. The current political fight seems like a good reason to revive it.

On Monday night, I joined over 4,000 people at the Iowa State Capitol to protest changes to Chapter 20, a section of Iowa Code that has protected the collective bargaining rights of public employees for over 40 years. I had signed up to speak at the public forum, but was not able to do so before the forum ended at 8:00. This is what I would have said.

My name is Rob Timmins, and I am the district data and assessment coordinator for Southeast Polk Community Schools. 

In a previous incarnation of my teaching career, I taught advanced composition classes, first at Stuart-Menlo High School, then at Valley High School in West Des Moines. When we worked on persuasive writing, I talked to students about finding the right words, and sometimes THE right word that could simultaneously define your side of the argument, while not alienating those who would disagree with you. 

Last night, after I thought I had finished writing what I would say tonight, I saw an ad promoting collective bargaining “reform” in Iowa. The ad was obviously in favor of HF291. However, the word “reform” in the ad only met half of the definition of the right word that I shared with my advanced comp students. While the word is certainly designed not to alienate anyone on either side, it does not honestly convey the radical, fundamental changes to collective bargaining that are in this bill. Calling this collective bargaining reform is the equivalent of calling catsup a vegetable. While tomatoes are good for you, and they are an ingredient in catsup, you cannot honestly call catsup nutritional. In the same way, change is part of reform, but you cannot honestly call this kind of radical change reform when it strips almost all collective bargaining rights away from most of Iowa’s public employees, and even goes as far to make some of our current rights, like the ability to negotiate for health insurance, completely illegal.

In my 25 years as a public educator, I have always been a member of my local teachers union. On an annual basis, I have paid close attention to the negotiations between my association leaders and the local school board. These negotiations have had great impact on my life and my family. There were years when negotiations between the teachers association and the district were contentious, and others when they were more amicable. The common thread among all of those years of negotiations is that they ultimately resulted in an agreement. Collectively, the association and the district were able to forge a compromise that was acceptable to both sides. In 25 years, I've never seen negotiations in one of my districts go to arbitration, or even mediation.

This is the very definition of local control. Employees of the local school district came to an agreement with locally-elected school board members to decide the best way to compensate teachers for the work they do, for the service they provide for their community. HF291 is not reform. It will decimate a system that has worked remarkably well for over forty years, a system that has created a collaborative community of teachers, administrators, and local school board members working collectively in the best interests of our students. Ben Franklin said, “An investment in knowledge pays the best interest.” HF291 will create a knowledge debt that will hurt our state for years to come.