Risky decision in Deerfield to drop KNEA representation.

The Deerfield school district has joined a small fraternity.

With teachers' recent 11-10 vote, Deerfield USD 216 became just the second school district in Kansas to decline membership in the Kansas National Education Association (KNEA). Riley County USD 378 did the same in 2009.

Teachers supporting the split sought the assistance of the Kansas Association of American Educators to educate them about the process to become a local, teacher-only organization.

Some in favor of the move said since there wasn't a history of difficult contract negotiations, union dues paid to KNEA only were an unnecessary expense, among other concerns.

The question, however, is whether teachers considered all of the ramifications of such a change.

Separating from an organization with a record of providing expertise in representing teachers was risky and especially at a time budget issues in the Kansas Legislature will mean fewer funds for public schools, and the likelihood of school districts facing tough decisions regarding teacher pay and possible layoffs.

While smaller communities may not encounter the same budget challenges and conflicts as their bigger peers, teachers in districts of all sizes should favor access to adequate professional aid.

Unfortunately, politics helped fuel the decision in Deerfield to separate from the KNEA. Joel McClure, a former Deerfield teacher who pushed for the change, called KNEA dues a way to "bankroll partisan politics."

Of course, partisan politics in the recent legislative session also motivated ultraconservative Republicans in their quest to undermine teachers unions' political activity and collective-bargaining power.

Teachers in Deerfield and beyond should know the ultraconservatives behind such movements have no interest in compromise. It's easy to see how they would want professional negotiators out of the picture when it comes to teacher pay and benefits.

Because of the anti-public-schools environment in Topeka, teachers do indeed need cost-effective representation. Without the KNEA, Deerfield teachers could face even more costly and time-consuming mediation should a contract dispute occur.

McClure said the change would give teachers more of a voice locally. While that sounds great, it wouldn't necessarily put them in a better position to negotiate.

Let's hope teachers who quit on the KNEA considered as much.