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Idaho Teachers Unions Protest Against Proposed Cuts

by Laura Zuckerman

SALMON, Idaho - Hundreds of people rallied in Boise and ten other Idaho cities on Monday to protest a plan by the state's schools chief to lay off hundreds of teachers and curtail their collective bargaining.

Several hundred people came out Monday Feb. 21, 2011 to show their opposition to Idaho Schools Superintendent Tom Luna's education reform plan. (Chris Butler/Idaho Statesman) Russ Chinske, head of the teachers union in the central Idaho town of Salmon, said it was wrong to strip teachers of their job protections.

"It's not a wise thing to fire people on a whim, especially the people dedicated to educating your children," he said.

The rallies were organized by the Idaho Education Association, which groups more than 12,000 elementary and secondary school teachers. At issue is Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna's proposed overhaul of the public education system for kindergarten through high school.

Luna's plan would cut more than 750 teaching positions and remove from collective bargaining such provisions as class sizes, teacher workload and promotions. It also would ban collective bargaining unless the teachers union could prove it represented more than 50 percent of workers.

It would eliminate seniority as a factor in teacher layoffs and replace tenure for some current and all future teachers with one- or two-year contracts. The minimum teacher salary would rise to $30,000.

Luna's proposal is spelled out in a package of three bills that cleared a key state senate panel on Thursday and could be voted on by the full Senate as early as this week.

"Whether the trio of bills reaches the Senate floor Tuesday, later this week, or next week, Monday's rallies sent another statewide message of strong opposition to Luna's legislation," the IEA said on its web site on Monday.

But endorsement by the legislature's Republican leaders and Governor Butch Otter puts the proposal on track to become law.

Luna says the changes will save millions of dollars as the state is facing a projected shortfall of $90 million in tax revenues to fuel its budget.

"We must change the way we spend what we currently have," Luna said in a statement.

Governor Otter and Luna, who is in his second term as the elected head of Idaho schools, last week decried acts of "hostility and vandalism" aimed at Luna.

That came after someone slashed the tires on Luna's truck and spray-painted it with graffiti.

(Reporting by Laura Zuckerman. Editing by Peter Bohan)

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