February 12, 2016

Teachers protest bill in Topeka

Danedri Thompson
It didn’t turn out the way she hoped, but for third grade Edgerton Elementary teacher Gina Zimmerman, the process itself was exhilarating.
“It was very liberating and exciting to be a part of something – just to stand up for something you believe in,” Zimmerman said.
Zimmerman is the president of the Gardner Edgerton National Education Association, the local teacher’s union. Along with dozens of other teachers, including USD 231 teachers, she was in the Capitol watching as the Kansas Legislature approved a bill that the Kansas National Education Association says will limit teacher’s ability to advocate for the needs of students without fear of retribution.
“I was one of the teachers in Topeka fighting that whole weekend,” Zimmerman said.
Specifically, teachers descended on the Kansas Legislature to protest proposals that would change the teacher tenure and due process. The proposed and now approved policy changes were attached to an education funding bill that added $129 million to public education funding. Gov. Sam Brownback signed the legislation into law last week.
According to a KNEA press release, the teachers unions supported a clean funding bill that did not include policy changes.
“We believe these policy pieces were added to advance Gov. Brownback’s anti-public-education, pro-special interest agenda,” a KNEA press release reads. “… We are extremely disappointed by the methods used to shove these policies into the bill under cover of darkness and without any, let alone adequate, open debate.”
Over the course of a long weekend, legislators struggled to craft a bill that would garner enough support for passage. Members of the Senate approved a funding bill that included a provision that would offer a property tax break to parents who homeschool or send their kids to private schools. Members of the House eliminated that provision in order to garner enough votes to proceed. Other provisions that did not make it into the approved legislation would have scrapped Common Core Curriculum requirements.
When members of the House finally adopted an education funding bill,  it was by the narrowest of margins – 63-57. The final bill included provisions that will allow tax incentives for businesses that provide private school scholarships to low-income students, and a provision that eliminated due process allowing teachers to be fired-at will.
Sen. Julia Lynn said the changes will make teacher contracts similar to those of other classified state employees.
“Teachers should not be retained simply based on the number of years they’ve taught,” Lynn told a crowd during a question-and-answer session in Gardner on April 12.
KNEA officials, however, say fired teachers who have been the victims of abuse of power will only have redress through costly litigation, under the approved legislation.
Although Zimmerman wasn’t pleased with the outcome of the final bill, she said she hopes the teachers who went to Topeka for the long weekend made a difference.
“There were many teachers from USD 231 that were in Topeka until 3 a.m. on Saturday and all day Sunday trying to fight this thing out,” she said.
Zimmerman said she talked personally to Rep. Bill Sutton, who abstained from voting on the final bill.
“We don’t know if we made a difference there,” Zimmerman said.
Sutton said he abstained from the vote to make a point.
“My present vote was that we’re going in the wrong direction if we continue to drop the school choice piece,” Sutton said.


  1. Walter H. says:

    Fighting the abuse of power? Seriously? Where has Mrs. Zimmerman been over the last few years when teachers have needed a strong union to stand up to what the former administration was doing? We have lost so many great teachers, what did Mrs. Zimmerman and the union do to protect them?

    During the last election candidates were fielded that would take a stand against former administrators and Mrs. Zimmerman and the GeNEA did not support any of these candidates. It is without a doubt that with the former administration gone the teachers are in a much better situation. If voters and teachers would have listened to the GeNEA and Mrs. Zimmerman I have no doubt that Dr. Gilhaus would still be in position.

  2. L.Ledbetter says:

    You have to admire Walter’s single mindedness. His ability to hijack a topic and steer it toward grinding whatever axe and pitchfork he is holding at the time is uncanny.

  3. Walter H. says:

    Amazing..isn’t it?


  4. Judith Rogers says:

    The light is certainly shining on Gardner as indicated by the following article. Citizens far from know all of the facts with respect to their School Board, just like they don’t know everything that has and is going on with their city of Gardner government. Wonder if the FBI has interviewed ole Tom Mertz who used to be on the School Board and may have been School Board President at one time – I have to wonder if ole Tom got any business from the school district even though he was recently applauded for his work with the school district. When Tom Mertz told me in September 2006 that he wasn’t concerned about kids dropping out of school because WE need more unskilled labor, is the day I crossed Tom Mertz off my list and there have been numerous reasons for me to do so since 2006. Everyone has their standards and citizens will have to make their own decisions, hopefully on facts and not on the word on the street or on the CFG Facebook page. Again, I urge citizens to truly involve themselves in what is going on with their city governments and their school district business – in my opinion lots of shady things happen and have happened but the apathy of the citizens make it easy for shady things to occur.



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