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School Boards must keep control of educational policy

The outcome of the general election on Nov. 4 could have an impact on the school board’s legal right to decide educational policy, and school boards and superintendents are prepared to defend local control over things as fundamental as class size, curriculum and staffing.

Two candidates for governor – incumbent Gov. Paul LePage and independent Eliot Cutler – unequivocally believe adoption of educational policy should remain in the hands of local school boards, while Democrat Michael Michaud says he is open to making some policy decisions a matter of collective bargaining.

The Maine Education Association has made it clear it wants to once again wage a legislative fight to make educational policy negotiable. The teachers union adopted a resolution at its May Representative Assembly saying: “The MEA promotes discussion with legislators and encourages legislation that would allow educators to bargain educational policy.”

It is a fight they have waged and lost before.

What is policy? Policy determines things like length of the school day and year, course offerings, class size, what positions will be added or eliminated and how students will be supervised. In short, policy generally impacts students and parents, as well as teachers.

Long-standing labor law and subsequent court decisions say policy is so important that it must be decided in an open meeting by officials accountable to the voters, and that means the locally elected school board.

Put another way, school boards represent all constituencies involved in local public education – students, teachers, other school staff, parents, and local property taxpayers – and all those voices need to be heard.

School boards are required by law to meet and consult with teachers before they approve policy, and if policies affect wages, hours or working conditions, those impacts are subject to negotiation.

Candidate reactions In an interview on July 2, Michaud said he does not believe curriculum should be negotiated, but some policy areas should be on the table.

“I do think (teacher) prep time and planning – that probably should be negotiated,” Michaud said, adding he would listen to all sides in the debate before making a decision.

Michaud said he would not support negotiating policy simply because the MEA wants it.

“I have been endorsed by the MEA, but I don’t always agree with people who endorse me,” he said.

Independent candidate Cutler described it as “crazy the very notion that educational policy ought to be subject to collective bargaining.”

Teachers should have a voice in the discussion, he said, but “educational policy should remain with local school boards.”

Gov. LePage, when asked if policy should be negotiable said: “Straight out no.”

He said teachers should have a voice, but the decision on policy should remain with the elected leaders in the district.

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