The lawsuit announced Thursday against the Boise School District and the Boise Education Association is as much about opposing perspectives on unions as about the constitutional issues it broaches directly.
The district contributes more than $30,000 a year towards the salary of the education association’s president. The Idaho Freedom Foundation, the conservative watchdog group which filed the suit, says that violates the state’s constitution. Foundation President Wayne Hoffman called it a misuse of taxpayer money.
“In this diversion of tax payer dollars, the union benefits at the expense of Idaho school children,” Hoffman says.
But Boise Education Association President Stephanie Myers says when her union is strong it benefits teachers and by extension their students. Both Myers and a Boise School District spokesman responded to the lawsuit by talking about the collaborative relationship between the district and the union.
Myers says when she started teaching special-ed in Boise 19 years ago, memories of recent labor conflicts were still fresh and painful. But the district and union had recently decided to change their relationship from oppositional to collaborative. She says for the past two decades that relationship has created a positive culture in Boise schools.
“If it’s collaborative then teachers feel like they’re trusted, that they have respect,” Myers says. “And then that translates into positive school morale and teacher morale and then that bleeds into the students.”
Myers has been out of the classroom for the last three years while she’s served as the Boise Education Association president. She says the salary reimbursement agreement that has been in the district’s master labor contract for years is one of many things that cement the collaborative relationship.
“Part of my salary paid by the district reinforces the fact that they have that mutual respect, that teachers' voices are also heard,” Myers says.
The Idaho Freedom Foundation says that agreement violates sections of Idaho’s constitution that forbid entanglements between government entities and private organizations. But besides the question of constitutionality, the lawsuit is largely about the question, 'are teachers unions good or bad for Idaho's education system?'
That question has been at the forefront of public policy debate in Idaho for many years. It was one of the driving issues behind 2011’s Students Come First laws and the successful 2012 effort to repeal them.
Find Adam Cotterell on Twitter @cotterelladam
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