Wednesday Preview; Tuesday Recap

Wednesday Preview; Tuesday Recap

Floor Debate on Judges, Union PACs

Two high-profile debates are set for today in chamber, with final action tomorrow.

Judicial Selection.  At 2:30, the Senate takes up SCR 1601, a constitutional amendment that would end the practice of requiring the Governor to appoint Supreme Court and Court of Appeals judges from a list of nominations made by a special commission.  Instead, the Governor could make any nomination, which would then have to be confirmed by the State Senate, a method similar to the U.S. federal system in which the President makes appointments with Senate confirmation.   Supporters say it would make the judicial system more responsive.  Opponents say it would make the process more political.  Some of the push for change comes from recent Supreme Court decisions ordering the Legislature to increase school funding. A companion bill, SB 8, would create a commission of review the Governor’s nominees and advise the Senate before it votes.

KASB supports the current system and joined the Kansas Bar Association in proposing an alternative that restructures the judicial nominating commission to give the Governor and Legislative leaders a majority of appointments to that body.  A similar constitutional amendment has passed a House committee but is not yet scheduled for House debate.  Any amendment must receive a two-thirds majority in both chambers and a simple majority vote of the public at a general election.

Union Dues.  The House will debate HB 2023 on general orders after 11 a.m.  The bill would make it unlawful for teachers associations to spend any money collected from payroll deductions on political activities designed to influence elections.  Funds for political action could be collected by check or money transfers.  Supporters say it would reduce undue pressure on teachers to join unions.  Opponents say it is designed to weaken the political influence of the Kansas National Education Association.  KASB did not take a position on the bill, because no postion has been adopted by the Delegate Assembly.
School leaders are encouraged to contact your Legislators today to express you views.

Hearings Open on Governor’s Revenue Bill

The Senate Assessment and Taxation Committee received a briefing Tuesday on SB 78, which contains a several tax changes proposed by Governor Brownback.  It would keep the state sales rate at the current level, rather than dropping 0.6 percent on July 1, and eliminate state income tax exemptions for mortgage interest and property taxes paid.  These three proposals are expected to raise nearly $500 each of the next two years.  The additaional revenue would finance the Governor’s two-year budget plan, which maintains the base per pupil, special education and LOB state aid at current levels, and increased funding for KPERS contributions and bond and interest aid.  It would also finance some additional reductions in the state income tax rate, pursuing the Governor’s goal to phase out the state income tax.
Without additional revenue, the state would have to spent down almost all of the state general fund balances next year and face a deficit of several hundred million dollars in 2014-15  KASB will testify in favor the income-raising elements of the bill to avoid further cuts in K-12 funding.

Collective Bargaining Bill Draws Multiple Views

KASB supported a portion of HB 2085 that would remove teacher evaluation procedures from the professional negotiations act yesterday in the House Commerce and Economic Development Committee.  However, KASB did not support other, more sweeping provisions that would allow individual teachers to collectively bargain with boards and appear to make it optional for boards to collectively bargain.  KASB members have not considered those proposals.
The bill was prompted by one of the recommendations of the Governor’s School Efficiency Task Force, and was supported by Task Force Chair Ken Willard, who is also a member of the State Board of Education from Hutchinson.  A newly elected member of the State Board, Steve Roberts, R-Overland Park, also testified in favor, saying he hoped it would make it easier to hire teachers with specialized knowledge but lacking full teacher training credentials.  Both stressed they were not representing the State Board.
The Kansas National Education Association and two local school board members testified against the bill, saying it would undermine currently effective bargaining relationships between boards and local teacher associations.  Written testimony was presented by the Kansas Policy Institute, as a proponent, and the Kansas School Superintendents Association, as neutral.

Committee questioning focused on two primary areas.  Several members expressed support for allowing more flexibility in hiring teachers, which supporters said the bill would allow by giving boards authority to negotiate individual contracts.  However, the bill does not change teacher licensing requirements.  The idea of individual contracts, by removing the exclusive right of one organziation to represent all teachers in the district, raised concerns by the opponents who said it would lead to a chaotic situation for local boards.

Committee chairman Marvin Kleeb, R-Overland Park, said the committee would not work the bill for another week or so, allowing proposed amendments to be considered.  KASB welcomes questions, recommendations and concerns from school leaders as the process unfolds.

KASB seeks clarification on tax increase vote

KASB testified in opposition to HB 2047 in the House Taxation Committee Tuesday.  The bill would require a separate vote by local governing bodies, including school districts, to spend an increase in property tax revenue over the previous year (with certain exceptions); and to publish the vote in the official county newspaper.
KASB said the bill would not result in a major change for districts, but noted that of the four major school district property tax levies, the 20 mill statewide levy is exempted under the bill, bond and interest levies and other debt service are exempted; and the capital outlay levy is already subject to protest petition and must be renewed at least every five years.  The fourth major levy is for local option budgets, which are limited by the state to 31% of the general fund, and levies are in part determined by the level of state LOB aid appropriated.

KSB suggested school districts be removed from the bill, or at a minimum, that the vote could be posted on the district webpage to reduce the expense of newspaper publication.