NOTE: This was first posted last night and has been updated.

No one needs to always agree with their representatives, but public educators threatening to

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Teachers' Union Is Going After Democratic Legislators

NOTE: This was first posted last night and has been updated.

No one needs to always agree with their representatives, but public educators threatening to withdraw all support from democratic legislators seems a little like biting the hand that feeds you. And when it comes to major education reforms being considered in Olympia this session, at least one union is constantly chomping on the aforementioned hand.

In February, the Pilchuck UniServ Council--the local Washington Education Association affiliate covering Everett--sent a resolution to Democratic senators and representatives on the education committees threatening to push non-incumbents in upcoming primary and general elections if they voted for bills that would dramatically change the way teachers are paid and evaluated. The bills were written based on the findings of a two-year Basic Education Funding Task Force created by legislators to look at potential major overhauls to the state's public education system.

The biggest sticking points are attempts to attach raises to classroom performance--something currently being touted by Obama--and making it easier to get rid of bad teachers.

Pilchuck union representative Mike Wartelle says the changes will take autonomy away from local districts in dealing with teachers, both in terms of dealing with problematic teachers and coming up with ways of paying teachers more through levies if residents in a district choose. "This is the establishment of a single state-wide public school system," he says.

One Democratic Senate staffer says Pilchuck has also been robocalling Snohomish County residents encouraging them to call their legislators to oppose the bills--2261 in the House (scheduled for a hearing on the Senate side March 25) and 6048 in the Senate (which passed through to the House March 11). Those two bills are actually revisions of previous bills and have been tempered somewhat. They call for the creation of a system to change teacher compensation and institute new accountability measures, rather than legislating those changes directly.

Still the unions vehemently oppose the bills. Other union groups haven't been as directly threatening as Pilchuck, but the Seattle UniServ has a form letter posted to its Web site to allow constituents to email state officials directly to oppose the legislation (still referenced by the original numbers: 1410 and 5444).

Sen. Steve Hobbs (D-Lake Stevens) was one of the recipients of the Pilchuck memo. He says he appreciates some of the WEA's concerns, but he says changing the way teachers get and keep their jobs as well as how their raises are handed out is essential to improving education.

"The public demands accountability," Hobbs says. "Everybody else is evaluated. In the private sector, if you're not good you're not going to get the raise or you're not going to keep your job."

The fact that the bills have been moving along despite the memo suggests that state Democrats aren't afraid to buck the powerful and deep-pocketed WEA. The bills will continue to be tweaked and amended as the session wraps up. And Hobbs says he would still like to see the unions be a part of that process. But they've compromised their position by issuing threats. Because of the memo, he says, he can't give much to them or other people in his district will see it as "oh he caved to special interests."

 
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