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Truce declared in Kansas 'war' on teacher bargaining

By JOHN HANNA

AP Political Writer

TOPEKA -- Kansas legislators have dropped their pursuit of a proposal to narrow contract negotiations between teachers and school districts to give education groups a chance to work out a compromise.

Chairman Marvin Kleeb confirmed Thursday that the House Commerce, Labor and Economic Development Committee won't vote this year on a bill dealing with teachers' bargaining rights. Kleeb said groups representing teachers, school superintendents and local boards of education will work for the rest of the year on a new version.

"We decided to give them a chance to actually work together," said Kleeb, an Overland Park Republican. "Hopefully, some good can come out of this."

The bill would limit the issues that must be negotiated between teacher groups and school boards to pay, holidays, sick leave, personal leave and the hours that teachers work outside their classes. School boards could still opt to negotiate over other issues affecting teachers' duties, but that list would not include how teachers are evaluated or how many classes they must teach each day.

Kansas has about 34,400 full-time teachers in its public schools, according to the state Department of Education. Teachers are not allowed to strike under Kansas law.

The measure had the support of some key Republican legislators, school superintendents and local boards of education. But the bill prompted the 25,000-member Kansas National Education Association, the state's largest teachers' union to warn of a "war" on educators.

The KNEA, the Kansas Association of School Boards and the Kansas School Superintendents Association issued a joint statement Thursday saying they had agreed "it was time to start anew." They said they intend to produce a compromise proposal by December, so that legislators can consider it next year.

"It's good news. It should have been done this way in the first place," said Sen. Laura Kelly, a Topeka Democrat. "It would have created a lot less angst."

Republicans who supported the bill said they wanted to encourage innovation in public schools by giving local districts more operational flexibility. Also, a task force appointed by Republican Gov. Sam Brownback recommended changes in January, saying rewriting the law would help local boards "determine what works best locally to drive efficiencies."

But critics of the measure saw it as an attempt to weaken the KNEA, which has a long history of supporting Democrats and moderate Republicans and has been a vocal critic of the conservative Republican governor.