By Travis Perry │ Kansas Watchdog
OSAWATOMIE — The tiny Kansas school district of Deerfield made some big noise when local educators decided to boot out the state teachers union earlier this month.
Deerfield USD 216 became only the second school district in the state to shun the Kansas National Education Association, following a 2009 decision by educators at Riley County USD 378. Instead, in an 11-10 vote on June 10, Deerfield teachers opted for local representation with the assistance of the Kansas Association of American Educators.
KAAE is a non-union organization that provides liability insurance and legal counsel to educators, but does not inject itself into the negotiation process.
After an initial vote held on May 14 that resulted in a tie of 13-13, a second mail-in vote was held, and 24 ballots were sent in, according to Joel McClure, a former Deerfield teacher who helped spearhead the effort. Of the 24 that were sent in, only 21 were accepted because three of the teachers had resigned, including McClure. Two other teachers abstained from voting, and one ballot didn’t make it in time, McClure said.
With KNEA now banished from Deerfield halls, local educators are left with the atrophied Deerfield Teachers Association, of which only five of the district’s 27 teachers are members. McClure said the decreasing interest in local representation was enough reason to fight against the statewide union.
“We started to think, ‘Well, what if next year, it’s four (members), what if it’s three, what if it’s two, what if it’s one?” McClure told the Telegram. “That only leaves a very, very small amount of people to govern locally, and that’s just no good for anybody. So, about the only way we could fix it was to go through this decertification process to try to change it, and luckily, we were very successful in that.”
KNEA general counsel David Schauner was not available for comment Friday afternoon. But Pamela Torgerson, director of Southwest UniServ, the district headquarters for KNEA, told the Telegram that self-representation could backfire on educators if a contract dispute develops.
“My concern with that is that without any kind of organizational backing, it’s going to be hard for the teachers there to enforce their negotiated agreement,” Torgerson said. “So, if they get into trouble during bargaining, they have to go to mediation on their own, and if things work out even worse and they decide to go to fact-finding, they’re pretty much on their own. They would have to pay for the fact finder to come out,” a process she noted can be expensive.
But in the close-knit community of Deerfield, population 701, McClure said it’s hard to fathom a case where educators and administrators would be unable to reach an agreement.
“There’s no instance that I can think of in two decades where KNEA has had to come in to control an out-of-control administration and school board. I mean, it just doesn’t happen,” McClure told the Telegram. “The teachers are ready for this change, and they’re ready to step up to the plate and do what needs to be done in governing the schools the way they think.”
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