Deerfield teachers vote to leave KNEA




Deerfield teachers recently voted to decertify their local teachers association from the Kansas National Education Association, and the move is evoking mixed reactions.

On June 7, Deerfield teachers voted 11-10 in favor of splitting from KNEA in order to secure their own bargaining rights.

According to a press release from the Association of American Educators, the Deerfield teachers supporting the split sought the assistance of the Kansas Association of American Educators (KANAAE), a state chapter of the AAE, to educate them about the process to become a local teacher-only organization.

Deerfield is only the second school district in Kansas to decertify from KNEA, according to the AAE.

Riley County Educators decertified from KNEA in 2009 to establish a local, teacher-only organization, and 15 school districts nationwide have split from their respective state and national unions' control of their local associations, according to AAE.

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.

"We feel that more voices at the table are more beneficial to everybody," McClure said. "It creates a win-win situation, and we think it's the best way to go. We think other school districts are going to pick up on this movement, and we've given them a pretty good roadmap to follow."

McClure said the main reason he and other teachers pushed for decertification from KNEA was to have a voice locally.

"More and more teachers are liking this idea, separating from the unions, saving money and still being able to negotiate and have a say locally in their schools," McClure said. "I'm thrilled that our educators were finally able to make the right choice for their school. My colleagues were simply unwilling to pay high dues and bankroll partisan politics in order to have a say locally."

Deerfield's local KNEA chapter, the Deerfield Teachers Association, remains and currently five of the 27 teachers in the Deerfield district are members.

The relatively small number of members in the DTA is one reason that McClure and others felt that seeking an alternative was a must.

"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?" he said. "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."

Mike Quilling, vice president of the DTA, said KNEA provides invaluable assistance in upholding and enforcing negotiated agreements, but he has additional concerns about the split.

"We're concerned that support of education is going to bear the largest part of tax cuts. We need supportive education representation in Topeka," Quilling said, referring to KNEA.

USD 216 Board President Richard Braun declined to comment. Vice President David Whatley also declined to comment, stating that he could not do so because the school board has yet to be notified about what parties they will be dealing with.

Amy Griffin, president of the DTA, and Amy DeLaRosa, USD 216 superintendent, did not return telephone calls seeking comment.

Pamela Torgerson, director of Southwest UniServ, the district headquarters for KNEA, said Deerfield teachers can join KNEA at any time, but the decertification limits what KNEA can do in terms of contract negotiations.

"It just means that it will be harder for us to enforce the contract, but they still have other rights that other members would have for negotiations," Torgerson said. "Either way, I hope they do well. We want the new organization to do well at bargaining because our members are still working there, and we want them to do well, too."

Torgerson said self-representation places the burden on teachers, should a contract dispute arise.

"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. 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," she said, adding that most teachers not affiliated with organizations such as KNEA don't have that kind of money.

"So they could be in a vulnerable position," she said.

Alternative non-union professional organizations, such as the KANAAE provide liability insurance and legal counsel for lower fees to teachers, but they aren't involved in negotiations, according to the AAE.

"We would like to congratulate the teachers of Deerfield on this critical vote," Garry Sigle, executive director of the KANAAE, said in the press release. "These teachers wanted a voice locally without having to join the NEA. KANAAE is proud to provide teachers with support services that empower them to create an organization that best meets the needs of local educators."

McClure said he sees the teachers' gain in bargaining power as one benefit of the split from KNEA.

"All teachers, by virtue of being employed in the district, have full rights and responsibilities in the local governing body," McClure said. "They can be members of whatever they want to, but they still have all their rights and responsibilities just by virtue of being an employee, a teacher in the district."

He added that in a community the size of Deerfield, where almost everyone knows each other, most issues can be worked out at the table.

"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 said. "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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