A bill that would strip Kansas teachers at two-year colleges of due process rights has reached the floor of the Kansas House of Representatives.
House Bill 2531 would end state-mandated due process procedures, commonly referred to as tenure, for teachers at Kansas’ community colleges and technical colleges.
Current, state law gives community and technical college teachers in their fourth year of employment the right to an independent hearing when facing termination. The law also extends that right to teachers in their third year who previously have taught for three consecutive years at another two-year college.
Garden City Community College President Herbert Swender was in the audience Thursday afternoon when the House Education Committee approved the measure by an 11-6 vote.
The process of removing an ineffective, tenured teacher is burdensome, Swender said to the committee on Feb. 9.
“There are challenges to how we have to go through the process should we have a situation where we have an instructor and things weren’t working out,” Swender said in an interview on Thursday. “It takes time to go through that and deal with some really difficult situations outside of the classroom.”
Should the bill become law, the Garden City Higher Education Association still would be able to ask the college to provide due process in local contracts, Swender said.
Leslie Wenzel, president of GCHEA, did not return a call seeking comment.
Faculty Senate Vice President Phil Hoke referred all questions regarding faculty tenure to Senate President Larry Pander, who was unavailable for comment on Thursday afternoon.
Of the five GCCC Faculty Senate members reached, Leonard Rodenbur was the only one who commented on the bill and Swender’s support of it.
Rodenbur said he was not confident that the teachers’ union will fight for teachers’ tenure rights.
“Nothing has been sent out to teachers to have a faculty meeting to discuss what’s going on. I think we’re being left out,” said Rodenbur, who is a social science instructor at the college.
Swender argued to the committee that state-mandated tenure is an unfunded mandate.
“At GCCC, we receive 11 to 15 percent of our revenue from the state of Kansas, yet salaries and benefits can make up to 75 to 80 percent of the budget,” Swender said in written testimony.
“Why would the state regulate 75 to 80 percent of our faculty contract work?” Swender said in an interview Thursday. “Kansas does not have to send any funds to community colleges. We need to operate like a business, and so we need the flexibility to hire and engage with the institution to best address that.”
Rodenbur said he felt felt “betrayed” by Swender’s desire to see state-mandated due process rights taken away.
“I guess if he felt that compelled to drive 300 miles, maybe he needed to explain it to the teachers before he went,” Rodenbur said. “Maybe he has a valid reason, but he hasn’t expressed it to us.”
Getting rid of a tenured teacher is not an expensive process for any school, Rodenbur said, adding that the current due process procedures don’t need to be changed.
“I feel like I’ve been stabbed in the back when I have to read about this in the paper or through KNEA (Kansas National Education Association) news releases,” Rodenbur said.
Sen. Larry Powell, R-Garden City, said he would vote in favor of the measure because he believes continuing contracts, another way to describe tenure, need to be determined by local college boards.
Powell suggested the bill was prompted by the college’s struggle to fire a former computer science instructor after he became the focus of a GCCC and police investigation.
According to an arrest affidavit, authorities found apparent child pornography on Steve Thompson’s work computer at GCCC. Thompson ultimately resigned from the college in February 2014, and after a more than two-year investigation, was charged in January with three counts of sexual exploitation of a minor.
“They had a bad employee, couldn’t fire him, paid him for six months, and then he got charged with a crime,” Powell said. “I think that’s what prompted this bill because it cost a whole bunch of money and there was no way that they could get rid of him because they couldn’t talk about what he was doing because he wasn’t charged (at the time). The investigation went on and on.”
Swender denied Powell’s assertion.
“No, absolutely not. No, that’s not it.” Swender said. “I don’t know how Powell drew that conclusion. I guess he’s just connecting recent dots.”
On Thursday afternoon, Rep. John Doll, R-Garden City, said he hadn’t read the bill yet and that he planned to visit with constituents before making a decision on where he stands on the measure.
“I’ve got to call back home,” Doll said. “I’ve heard from one side talking about this, but not the other.”
Rep. Steve Alford, R-Ulysses, said he did not know enough about the bill to give an opinion on it.