MICHIGAN TRUTH SQUAD ANALYSIS: "Protecting Predators in the Classroom? Proposal Threatens Student Safety, Could Overturn Valuable Education Reforms." (Press release)
Who: Citizens Protecting Michigan's Constitution
What: Press release and memo to statewide media
Truth Squad call: Foul
Questionable statements: "Under the proposal, numerous invaluable education laws currently on the books would likely be overturned, stripping Michigan parents and children irrevocably of the protections, safety and quality assurances on which they currently rely." (press release)
"The fact of the matter is the union-boss backed attempt to hijack Michigan's Constitution would undo perhaps dozens of laws that Michigan parents rely on to keep their kids safe at school and to ensure their children receive the best possible public school education." (memo)
The press release and memo come from opponents of the "Protect Our Jobs" constitutional amendment, Proposal 2, that is on the Nov. 6 ballot. The measure would establish collective-bargaining rights for workers in the public and private sectors in the Michigan Constitution.
The ballot initiative was launched by numerous unions after the Republican-controlled Legislature enacted a variety of laws limiting the power of public unions. Among them were bills removing areas from the realm of collective bargaining, such as layoff procedures and tenure protections for teachers.
It appears accurate that the constitutional amendment would have the effect of undoing dozens of state laws. In a memorandum to Gov. Rick Snyder, Attorney General Bill Schuette listed more than 150 statutes that would be affected However, constitutional changes are not irrevocable. Voters could repeal the amendment in the future through another constitutional amendment.
Questionable statements: "Among the laws that could be overturned upon passage of the deceptive proposal are protections for students that require the suspension of teachers accused of having sex with students and a law enabling school districts to fire teachers who lied about their criminal history during the hiring process." (press release)
"Effect of Proposal: schools would potentially be banned from suspending teachers accused or convicted of having sex with students (and other criminal acts)." (memo)
"Laws that would likely be overturned upon passage of the deceptive proposal include but are not limited to:
"OVERTURNED: Protections for students that require the suspension of teachers accused of having sex with students;" (memo)
As noted above, the amendment would "override state laws that regulate hours and conditions of employment to the extent that those laws conflict with collective bargaining agreements." The wording is sufficiently vague that the courts would likely decide which laws are overridden. Still, there's little doubt that future collective-bargaining agreements would conflict with -- and thus override -- existing state law in a variety of ways.
If a school board and a teachers' union were to agree on a process for handling allegations of sexual misconduct or lying about criminal history, those agreements could very well trump state law if Prop 2 passes. The elected school board is still responsible for negotiating contracts that protect students and staff. It is difficult to envision a situation in which a school board would agree to ban itself from suspending teachers convicted of having sex with students.
Questionable statements: "2) Effect of Proposal: Public schools may be banned from firing staff who hid criminal history during hiring process." (memo)
"OVERTURNED: A law enabling school districts to fire teachers who lied about their criminal history during the hiring process;" (press release)
The Revised School Code (Act 451 of 1976) requires school employees to sign statements identifying all crimes they have been convicted of, and allows the district to void the contract if a criminal background check conflicts with the statement. Once again, if the constitutional amendment passes, a school board and union could potentially negotiate a different way to address such circumstances.
Questionable statements: "3) Effect of Proposal: Allows public schools to hide/suppress unprofessional conduct of current and former staff from parents if agreed to in a collective-bargaining agreement. (memo)
"OVERTURNED: The law prohibiting schools from hiding the unprofessional conduct of teachers from students’ parents;" (press release)
The Revised School Code (380.1230b(6)) prohibits schools from entering into contracts that have "the effect of suppressing information about unprofessional conduct ..."
If the amendment passes, this could be subject to negotiation.
Questionable statements: "4) Effect of Proposal: POJ would constitutionally prohibit laws that mandate school years begin after Labor Day." (memo)
"OVERTURNED: The law requiring public schools to start after Labor Day;" (press release)
In 1999, after years of debate, the Legislature voted to prohibit school districts from beginning the school year before Labor Day, largely to boost the tourism industry. Previously, many school districts were choosing to start the school year in late August, a calendar often spelled out in collective bargaining agreements. Opponents of the legislation said the school calendar should be a local decision. Since Prop 2 would allow collective bargaining agreements to override "state laws that regulate hours and conditions of employment," it appears likely that unions and school boards and education reformers opposed to the Labor Day rule would regain the ability to negotiate an earlier start of the school year.
Questionable statements: "5) Effect of Proposal: School bus drivers would no longer be legally required to have safety training" (memo)
"OVERTURNED: A law requiring school bus drivers to take part in safety training;" (press release)
The Pupil Transportation Act requires school bus drivers to complete safety training courses. For instance, they must have completed a course within the previous two years. Like the other situations, there is the potential for collective bargaining agreements to supersede this requirement and the safety requirements could be altered. With or without the law, school boards are responsible for the safety of children getting to and from school. It would seem likely that school districts would have a hard time getting insurance (or would pay much more) if they didn't require bus drivers to be trained.
Questionable statement: "6) Effect of Proposal: Enshrines "First In - Last out" teacher tenure in Constitution." (memo)
"OVERTURNED: Law prohibiting schools from using "First in, last out" policy to protect bad teachers from removal based solely on seniority;" (press release)
Last year, the Legislature made major changes in laws regulating the layoff of teachers. MCL 380.1248, part of the Revised School Code, requires that teacher performance be the major determinant in layoff decisions. Prior to that, reductions in force were based primarily on seniority.
There is little question that unions will work hard to restore seniority protections in collective bargaining agreements if Prop 2 passes.
Questionable statement: "7) Effect of Proposal: State forbidden from basing teacher tenure on teacher effectiveness instead of only time on the job." (memo)
For decades, teachers who gained tenure after a few years of teaching were almost never terminated for being bad teachers. Terminations were rare and generally resulted from outrageous behavior, such as having sex with a student. School administrators and others claimed the system for firing bad teachers was too cumbersome, costly and tilted in employees' favor for school districts to take on the process of removing an incompetent teacher. Republicans dramatically altered tenure protections by putting veteran teachers on probation if they were deemed "ineffective or minimally effective." The changes were strenuously opposed by the Michigan Education Association.
Questionable statement: "8) Effect of Proposal: Allows unions to ban parents from volunteering and performing cost-saving services in schools if subject to a bargaining agreement." (memo)
State law currently lists volunteering as one of the prohibited areas in collective bargaining for teachers. Collective bargaining agreements could restrict that in the future if Prop 2 passes.
Questionable statement: "The Michigan Education Association the state’s largest teachers union, recently circulated a memo (SEE ATTACHMENT) to its members admitting that a dozen or more student, parent and taxpayer protections, including laws that cover teacher discipline and placement, would likely be revoked should the proposal be approved in November." (press release)
The MEA memo doesn't "admit" that student, parent and taxpayer protections would be revoked. Rather, the memo gives a summary of legal analysis of the effects of Prop 2 on state law. The memo summarizes how the proposal, if approved, would negate various laws and allow a return to the kinds of policies MEA favors.
Questionable statements: "9) Effect of Proposal: Job performance may be forbidden from factoring into pay increases for teachers." (memo)
"FORBIDDEN: Job performance may be forbidden from factoring into pay increases for educators;" (press release)
Merit pay has been virtually nonexistent in Michigan public schools, largely because of resistance from unions at the bargaining table. Unions leaders say they are not unequivocably opposed, but express a variety of concerns about awarding it fairly, avoiding favoritism and the impact on staff morale. Public Act 2005 of 2009, part of the state's effort to acquire federal Race to the Top funds, requires school districts to include job performance as a factor in compensation. This is another area that future collective bargaining agreements could override if Prop 2 passes.
Questionable statements: "10) Effect of Proposal: Schools would be forbidden for firing teachers who rate "ineffective" in three consecutive annual performance reviews." (memo)
"FORBIDDEN: The current law permitting districts to fire teachers who rate "ineffective" on three consecutive performance reviews may be forbidden;" (press release)
The legislation lays out a series of steps for dealing with teachers who are judged to be ineffective and ultimately requires dismissal of teachers who are "ineffective" according to three consecutive annual performance reviews. Although teachers are rarely judged to be ineffective, that could change as the changes are fully implemented. This is another area where unions lost power because of legislation and could regain it at the bargaining table if the amendment passes.
Overall impression: The press release seeks to scare voters into believing that both student safety and education are at risk if Prop 2 passes. It does that in part by focusing on one of the most frightening scenarios: sexual predators in the classroom. But that danger occurs only if two things happen: unions seek to keep accused and convicted sexual predators in the classroom; and locally elected school boards agree to collective bargaining agreements that would allow that to happen.
At the same time, the press release accurately points out that Prop 2 would have far-reaching implications -- primarily in undoing measures that dramatically reduced unions' powers by such things as barring seniority-based layoffs and reducing tenure protections. It lists a variety of measures that could be undone.
Foul or no foul: Foul. CPMC is on solid, detail-oriented ground in noting the wide variety of laws that would be negated by Proposal 2 and how numerous sensitive policy questions would move back to the province of collective bargaining. But the group, whose principal funder to date is the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, veers into hyperbolic claims with the remarks on sexual predators. That claim is built on the idea that, somehow, Michigan residents serving as school board members, school administrators and teachers would negotiate contracts to allow convicted sexual predators to remain in the classroom, or allow those accused of such acts to remain in the classroom while an investigation is under way. That's built on the assumption such Michigan residents are incompetent or craven. And that deserves a foul.