Teachers in the Blue Valley school district left the Kansas National Educators Association (KNEA) last May and they overwhelmingly rejected KNEA in an election held last week by the Kansas Department of Labor. Their departure could cost the KNEA as much as $500,000 in annual membership dues from more than 1,000 members.

The new independent Blue Valley Education Association (BVEA) is the third Kansas public school district to detach from the national and state education association during the last school year. Rosalie-Flint Hills USD 492 teachers decertified with a unanimous 23-0 vote in December. The vote in the Marmaton Valley USD 256 was nearly the same. Teachers voted 23-1 to reject the KNEA.

“There are more coming,” says Gary Sigle, executive director of the Kansas Association of American Educators, or KANAAE.

Blue Valley educators cut ties with the KNEA with a 904-104 vote last week. Their independent bargaining unit, Blue Valley Education Association (BVEA), now will negotiate contract terms without the assistance of the KNEA. Blue Valley is the fourth largest school district in Kansas.

Sigle estimates approximately 25 public school districts of Kansas’s 286 are independent or unaffiliated with the NEA or AFT. Between 2012 and 2017, the KNEA lost more than 12 percent of its active members.

Kansas is a right to work state, which means teachers aren’t forced to contribute portions of their paychecks to pay union membership dues. However, public school teacher contracts are negotiated between school boards and bargaining units. The majority of Kansas teacher contracts are negotiated by local affiliates of the Kansas National Education Association (KNEA) or the American Federation of Teachers of Kansas, (AFT-KS). The KNEA didn’t return calls for an interview for this story.

One Blue Valley reading specialist took to Twitter, expressing her dissatisfaction with the KNEA.

“As someone who stands before #ksed students each day, I chose not to condone the disrespect and dishonesty that KNEA has shown to BV teachers and to (Kansas legislative) leaders who are supporters of Kansas education,” Julie Vodehnal tweeted in late April.

A former teacher and coach, Sigle helped his former school district in Riley County disentangle from the KNEA. The union rules allowed only those who paid union dues to serve on the negotiation team. At the time, there were 56 teachers in the Riley County School District including Sigle, but only 13 belonged to the NEA. No one on the negotiation team taught at the high school.

“What I found out was that the NEA, they weren’t always accurate about things they said about me personally or about the process,” Sigle recalls. “They didn’t mind stretching the truth, and it was very frustrating.”

The organization Sigle now heads, KANAAE, offers professional educators an alternative to joining a labor union. KANAAE doesn’t negotiate salaries or benefits on behalf of its members but its members get legal and liability coverage. Unlike the KNEA and AFT-KS, KANAAE doesn’t engage in electioneering. Membership dues aren’t used to endorse or advance political candidates, and the group doesn’t donate to political campaigns.

According to its website, the KNEA doesn’t use dues for campaign contributions. It does, however, accept voluntary contributions to its political action committees. The Kansas NEA PAC spent more than $135,000 in 2018, including $5,000 contributions to both the Senate Democratic Committee and Kansans for a Democratic House, and $15,000 to Kansans for a Progressive House. The PAC also gave $2,000 to Laura Kelly’s gubernatorial campaign, $2,000 to Brian McClendon’s secretary of state campaign, and $2,000 to Vicki Schmidt’s insurance commissioner campaign. The Blue Valley NEA political action committee donated about $600 to local Kansas House candidates in 2018 before disbanding in July.

Sigle says he sees a steady movement of teachers leaving KNEA. It appears to be part of a national trend. The 74 reports that large affiliates in Hawaii, Tennessee, Indiana, Florida, and Nevada left the NEA in the last six years.

“In my opinion, there’s just a dissatisfaction with what the NEA offers,” Sigle says. “They’re expensive, and there are teachers who are not affiliated, who are not members of the NEA, who want a say in how things go locally.”

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