Who Speaks For Teachers?

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Much will be said about the joint meeting between the Hamilton County Commission and the Hamilton County School Board. But one thing is clear under the law for collective bargaining in Tennessee. The duly authorized representative of teachers is the Hamilton County Education Association and their bargaining representatives. The law was established this way so there would not be “wildcat” groups popping up every year with their own agendas bypassing the solitary voice required by law to bargain for teachers and administrators alone. And the orderly process of educating students wouldn’t be sidetracked with drama, threats of strikes and disruptions.

For decades this has been the way it was done. I, myself, for several years was part of this civil and orderly process and much was accomplished benefiting students and staff alike. Dr Robert Smith was an outstanding spokesman for the board and the HCEA team was also for teachers and administrators. Bargaining sessions could be heated but always professional with those folks.

But individuals like the lady passing out cards with color to show the crowds’ approval or disapproval is the kind of behavior that bypasses the professional procedures of bargaining. Like it or not votes were held and the matter is settled for the school year regarding salaries. Drama and disruptions or threats of disruptions have no place in the educational system here. We’ve watched on TV for years and even strikes and turmoil in big cities around the country and I know parents and citizens here don’t want that. That’s why the collective bargaining law was written in such a way to avoid that. No one benefits except a little handful of people craving power.

The Hamilton County Education Association was recognized as the sole voice of collective bargaining and if teachers want to change that they can but in the prescribed manner under the law. And they know what that is and it’s not with agitators pushing their own agenda.

County Mayor Coppinger may not have gotten everything he wanted from this meeting but it is a positive first step. Also under Tennessee law we do not have independent school boards like Kentucky. School Boards there are allowed to set the tax rate as well as set policy for the schools. Hamilton County has two separate bodies of government, one for setting school policy the other, for among other things, to set the tax rate. Therefore things may move slowly but it must be in an orderly way or else change the law at the state level.

That is why I commend the mayor for his efforts and hope these meetings continue because contrary to the thinking of some there are other significant issues facing our public schools. I know many of the commissioners and board members and know they want the best for all the citizens in Hamilton County and that means working together not with threats and drama.

I would also encourage HCEA to decide if they are speaking for teachers or self-appointed voices are doing that. It’s no wonder board members and commissioners are at a quandary as to who is speaking for teachers as the collective bargaining law addresses. If HCEA doesn’t make it clear, more uncertainty and theatricals will keep happening and the trust gap will only widen.

Ralph Miller


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