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Unions: Teacher jobs in jeopardy

Unions: Teacher jobs in jeopardy

August 28th, 2013 by Celia Ampel, News Tribune in News

Missouri's K-12 educators continued to push against a controversial tax cut bill Monday, projecting that thousands of teachers could lose their jobs if the Legislature overrides the governor's veto of the bill.

Three teachers unions released an analysis estimating that about 5,400-9,400 Missouri public school teachers could be let go if the Legislature overrides Gov. Jay Nixon's veto, resulting in a $692 million decrease in state revenue.

"You can't cut large amounts of money without impacting personnel," said Bruce Moe, executive director of the Missouri State Teachers Association, which released the study with Missouri's chapters of the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers.

In June, Nixon vetoed House Bill 253, which would enact sweeping tax cuts. The Legislature will decide whether to override the veto at a special session in September.

The K-12 community is mobilizing before the vote to make sure legislators understand the impact the bill could have on constituents, Moe said.

He said it's impossible to know where budget cuts might be made. The study assumes that K-12 education, which makes up 38 percent of the state budget, would take 38 percent of the cuts.

With any suggested budget cuts, teachers' jobs become part of the political rhetoric, said Blake Naughton, executive director of MU's Hook Center for Educational Leadership and District Renewal.

But in this case, he said, it's almost certain teachers would have to go.

"The magnitude of the cuts are what changed the ballgame with this particular bill. ... I don't know how else you would absorb that much in cuts," Naughton said, noting K-12 education is already "severely underfunded."

Missouri Republican Party spokesman Matt Wills said the unions' analysis repackaged Nixon's budget projections without attributing them.

"Teachers should know better," Wills said. "Any student that turned that into them would receive an F for plagiarism."

The report stated the tax bill could lead to an $800 million reduction in state revenue, or $1.2 billion if the federal Marketplace Fairness Act is passed. Moe said the numbers came from the governor's office.

It's presumptuous to say those figures are accurate, Wills said.

"It's way too early to even think about putting these hard-line numbers into place. ... From the people I've talked to on Capitol Hill, I don't see (the Marketplace Fairness Act) becoming law," he said.

Nixon stated in a news release Monday that the analysis "underscores the troubling impact House Bill 253 would have on our public schools and Missouri's children."

The bill has engaged teachers, parents and administrators in a rare way, Moe said.

"It's unusual for an issue to be this pervasive across the K-12 community," he said.

Mike Lodewegen, director of legislative advocacy for the Missouri Association of School Administrators, said the organization has seen a huge response from members. Administrators are encouraging school employees, parents and others to voice potential concerns about the bill.

"Budgets are about priorities," Lodewegen said. "When you start talking about not making education a priority, it's dangerous."

Lodewegen said cuts to K-12 education could mean larger class sizes, higher property taxes and fewer school programs.

"When do we stop having to do more with less?" he said. "That's sort of where we're at."

The administrators' association is looking to work with the Legislature on a more structured bill, Lodewegen said.

"We're absolutely opposed to 253 and want to see that bill die," he said. "If it does, we're absolutely interested in sitting down and talking with the folks who are pushing this to come up with an economic development bill."

If the veto is overriden, a provision in Missouri law means it would be difficult to reverse, Naughton said. The Missouri Legislature can pass tax cuts, but to raise taxes past a certain level requires a public vote.

"It's really hard to hit the undo button here," Naughton said. "I think that's why educators are scared, because it has some permanence."