Innovative Approaches to Labor Relations and Schools
About the Guests:
Oct. 28, 2005
Linda Kaboolian, the author of Win-Win Labor-Management Collaboration in Education, and a labor relations expert with the Taubman Center for State and Local Government at Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government.
Don Raczka, president of the Poway Federation of Teachers in San Diego County, Calif.
Kevin Bushweller (Moderator):
Welcome to today's online chat about innovative approaches to labor-management negotiations.
It is well known that when teachers and school management are continually at odds, everyone suffers, especially the students. How can teachers' unions and district leaders work together more effectively? How does a district overcome decades of conflict between management and labor?
Our experts will address those and other questions. And we have a lot of questions already. So let's get the discussion started ...
Question from Charles Meeker, Board Member, Port Huron Area School District:
When labor relations have been contentious over decades how can the parties involved resolve their issues and develop more positive relationships?
If management is new to the district, it might be important for there to be a comparison of the mental time-lines that various stakeholders carry around in their heads. For example, if management is thinking "history" is the past 3 years and board members and teachers are thinking about the past 30 years, that difference is going to present some problems to the relationship.
Even if there haven't been any changes among the players, it might be very useful to have a mediator who focuses on relationships, come in and first speak to each stakeholder group separately to see what the nature and depth of the problems are from their point of view and then propose a process by which the parties might be able to move beyond the weight of the past.
You might think this is pollyannish, however, I am very impressed by how people who have been in conflict with each other for generations can move beyond the past to begin constructing a joint future. Take Northern Ireland, for example. It has a population smaller than many US cities and until the recent peace process began, each conversation about community relations began with "In 1600.....". That's a lot of history to overcome and people are doing it. If it can happen in societies where people have killed each other, then it is possible for school districts to do this work. I've seen it done and I know places where poeple have savaged each other emotionally, politically and professionally, but where leaders began to see that the conflict was costing everyone a lot and benefiting no one very much and began to invest in a new process. It is important to find the right outside facilitator to do this work. Look beyond the usual suspects, if you need to, to people who have done divorce or community mediation. Good luck.
Question from Bob Frangione, Graduate student in edication:
Contract disputes locally seem to revolve around health care costs. How can this ever rising situation be dealt with in districts with shrinking or stagnant budgets?
Health care costs are soaring and budgets are not. Those are facts of life in all fields of business, including the business of education. You've focused on the main problem, fixed costs (health care, energy, etc) continue to rise but budgets don't keep up with them. In an interest-based negotiating process, labor and management together focus on solutions versus positions. But this is hard work. For health care, some creative solutions out there are joining a larger purchasing pool (several districts together); spending some time with experts to assess the possibilty of self-funding insurance; looking at the benefit structure, etc.
Let me get specific on our case for a moment. Together the union and management negotiated paid health care costs for retired teachers until they reach the age of medicare. BUT-- we together figured out a way to set money aside to fund that over time. It is in the interests of BOTH parties to provide that benefit and figure out a funding source OR THE SYSTEM WILL GO BROKE OVER TIME. Together and solution. The overall answer the health care question is beyond my ken. I sure hope someone figures it out.
Question from Carol Taylor Fitz-Gibbon, Prof. Emeritus, Durham University:
One element sorely lacking is sound evidence as to what works. Are teachers to be blamed for this or is it policy makers?
If by "what works" you mean how we teach kids to be literate or numerate, then we are making process on knowing "what works", especially for reading and writing. If you mean classroom practice more generally, well that is another topic altogether. This is one place where even the most ardent proponents of teachers as professionals will admit that teaching has not codified practice in a way that categorizes it fully as a profession in the way law and medicine are professions. The full emergence of teaching as a profession will require that this topic be addressed. Teachers and their associations should be wholly engaged in this and collaborations with university-based and other researchers would be enormously helpful.
Question from Gordon Kendall, Principal, Southwest Middle School and member of the negotiations team for the board of education:
Our district has traditionally and formally begun teacher negotiations, the face to face segment, in April of each school year. Is it reasonable to suggest that this process begin earlier? Why do so many districts wait until so late in the academic year?
Our interest based system now bargains all the time. Think of this metaphor: the contract in a bound text that is revised every couple of years and a contract in a three-ring binder that allows provision X to be changed at any time. Interest based problem solving solves problems (duh!) -- usually while they are small and not festering. Waiting until certain times of the year to solve issues isn't efficient or very smart. The teams meet periodically and solve issues as they come up. But this culture took a while to get to. And it isn't foolproof or THE SOLUTION. It's an alternative way of doing business that makes sense.
Fiscally, bargaiing has almost always been behind the calendar. Looking at formulas or data-driven fiscal decisions are alternatives. I've bargained both ways and the path we['re on now gets better results with less angst.
Question from Suzanne Wynnell, Teacher, Olinder Elementary:
While researching state minutes, I noticed that California has some of the lowest minimum minute requirements for students. How do we get the unions to champion the need for a longer school day without having to hear about MORE MONEY? In short, how do I get my union to push for reform without always looking out for "me"?
We've figured out a couple of pilot projects where teachers are spending more time (longer day and longer year) with kids in an academy format. We pay those folks per diem, which is the right thing to do. We also figured out a funding stream to do that (summer school and remedial money). However, there's not a enough dollars in the system to do that overall.
I suggest you look at a publication: Prisoners of Time from the US Dept. of Ed. It not only address your basic premise: MORE time but also points out key quesitons like HOW you spend the time you already have. I'm not convinced that MORE is necessarily the only answer.
And professionals should be compensated a professional wage. If you teach an hour more a day, why should that time be worth less than the hour from 9-10 that you already teach? that logic escapes me. Looking at the literature and figuring out a solution that helps kids would be my suggetions.
Question from Chris Okpala:
As the Highly-Qualified deadline approaches, I hear more and more teachers in special education contemplating leaving exceptional education definitely behind. Reason being that such teachers can do more and deserve higher pay with the highly qualified credentials.
I think the highly-qualified idea overshoots the mark. Some think more money will assuage the feeling, others say highly-qualified is a preposterous fad heading whence it came. What do you think?
Yikes! This is a pretty big one. Look, the Highly-qualified and the whole NCLB is pretty flawed, isn't it? SPED teachers wish to leave the field just because it's so hard and getting harder. BUT-- in a collaborative labor-mangement system the parties would work through these issues together. For example: In my system all the SPED (special ed) teachers worked on a strategic plan. Not at all unique, right? But what is unique is that the folks in charge of recommendations for implementing that plan is a joint team of union-selected teachers and management working together. Teachers are paid a hefty stipend (equivalent of 17 days additional work at per diem) and given responsibilty with management. It's just started, it's hard work but is, I think, the right direction. It's in everyone's interest to solve the problems.
Question from Dom Summa, Manager of Negotiations, California Teachers Association:
Hi Linda, How do you deal with districts where management wants "win-win" in negotiations but exercises a top down management style in all other areas of labor-management relations?
You've made a good distinction between the process of "negotiating" and the process of "implementing" an agreement. Often managers do not know how to manage in a participative style or are so worried about accountability issues that they believe only they feel the pressure to improve achievement. Here are a few tips: If you know of a district where the management has a more empowering style, take a joint study tour of the and point out the ways teachers are empowered and ask explicit questions about what the benefits have been to management and student achievement. Back at home, I would open the conversation with definitions of outcomes both parties would like to achieve during the contract period. The union might list "in creased participation in the implementation of..." as one of its desired outcomes. Each proposal should be measured against this desired outcome. Think about places where teachers want to be more involved -- start small and in localized settings and then expand -- this gives both sides an opportunity to learn new ways of working together. Encourage district management to attend conferences, such as QuEST, that specifically address this issue and where they can meet with managers who are learning new ways of managing. Also remember, that if you want a more collaborative relationship in day-to-day matters, management is likely to want to see teachers taking more responsibility for outcomes.
Question from Diann Johnson, instructor, Technical & Adult Education:
Our administrator mandates a 40 hour work week and then expects additional work hours be performed with no compensation. Her comments are "you are salaried employees." I don't feel that this is fair. Is there any legal documentation to help with this situation? Any suggestions? Morale is low now.
I'd look at your contract. If you are from a non-bargaining unit and don't have a contract, now you know why you need one. The hours and contact time for teachers are always negotiated within a contract provision. get in touch with your union.
Question from Bill Smith, teacher, Swift School:
Do teachers have the right to take off for religious holidays, without salary penalty, if it isn't provided for specifically in the union contract?
Those issues are almost always detailed out in the contract or state ed code. In CA, teachers use "Personal Necessity" which comes out of the sick leave bucket at full pay. It would strike me odd not to have something in law already. I'd contact your union to research it out.
Question from Cheryle Gittens-Bailey, CEO - The Sentient Corporation:
An underlying assumption and divisive element of most negogitions is that conflict exists. However, children first - a potentially powerful unifying force, can potentially bring together many points of view. How can teachers and management be empowered to maintain their focus on the needs of children and not the political or symbolic concerns that often distract from the educational pursuits of our youth?
Everyone who cares about public education must understand that there is very little tolerance among the public and overseers for petty bickering and theatrics. Where there is principled differences, should be handled in civil and constructive ways with an aim to quick resolution rather than "winning one over" on the other party.
In contract negotiations, focus on student can be accomplished by making it an explicit purpose of the collective bargaining relationship. Parties can analyze their existing contract to see where concerns for students are addressed, if at all. I am impressed by parties who begin their work by hammering out a joint statement of mutual concern about student achievement -- not just rhetoric but in detail, discussing the student achievement challenges are in the district, and then carry that spirit of that statement throughout the negotiations. Imagine what could happen if the parties adopted this as a metric by which problems were solved: "in the best interests of student achievement" When it comes to day-to-day activities in schools -- the parties should have regularly scheduled conversations about the results of diagnostic testing and follow-up measurements. If teachers and their union representatives are genuinely participating in actively jointly with school management about how to improve student achievement, then the joint committee or work group would have a constructive focus.
Question from Joann Hartmann, MAT student, Gran Canyon Universtiy:
What should new teachers know about teacher unions, contracts, and the like? I know very little about these things.
Most states have a labor compact between the teaching force and management that outlines the salaries, benefits and working conditions in the district. Teaching is a profession and a calling. It's also a job. The "job" part is usually defined by a contract. Unions should not be seen as an outside agency. Learning your craft should be your first priority but learning about your own local union and your contract is just the smart part of being an employee -- because you will be an employee and that's not a negative rap.
Good luck in your career. I have never regretted my decision to work with kids.
Question from Matthew Kiskunas, 7-12 Vocal Music Teacher, Spring Valley Schools, WI:
Due to declining enrollment and the necessary budget cuts that result from it, we are facing almost certain layoffs this coming spring. Nevertheless, our union's leaders continue to push for major increases in teacher compensation. One proposed solution to the budget crisis is to withdraw those demands and instead have all staff take a voluntary pay cut in order to save programs and staff positions. Are there examples of other school districts doing this? If so, what are they, and how might we find information on those specific situations?
It is very hard for a union leader to sell across the board pay cuts for eveyone, especially if they won't be affected by increased workloads (e.g. class size increases). From the point of view of a union leader, budget shortfalls that affect positions or salaries are always going to be decided on the basis of minimizing the number of people hurt, unless there is another agenda.
Of course, there is always the possiblity that your union leaders think there is an alternative solution. Ask them what budget tradeoffs they would make in order to maintain staff levels. Remember, layoffs cost a union money in lost per capita dues. If they can't or won't make any suggestions, and if your school district is paying above or the same as districts with which you compete for good teachers, then there may not be another alternative.
For information on what other districts are doing, teachers can call the state union organizations (AFT or NEA) for more information.
Question from P. Grieve,Campus Technologist, South Texas:
How do you suggest approaching administration that gives themselves hefty pay raises each year, but NO teacher raises in 5 years?
With a big stick?
Look, I've been there before and I get how that feels. If I recall, isn't Texas one of those states with a non-bargaining clause? do you have a union and contract negotiations. Without a formal process to address these concerns, you are stuck in that "fairness" argument. If that is the case, I'd focus my arguments to the school board and to the community. But it's got to be a bigger voice that just one person. It's got to be a collective voice.
If you do bargain collectively, then I'd seriously consider thinking about changing the game. I’ve become a real believer in data-driven decisions. The teams should be able to agree on the data – if not, then that’s really at the core of most traditional bargaining problems. “You’ve got the money, we should get it” “We’re broke” Those are value statements. The question should become “Let’s together do a complete analysis of the district’s budget and agree on what we can agree upon and get what we don’t agree upon on the table”. Data almost always drives better decisions. And it’s good decisions we both should be after, not a win.
Question from Joe Petrosino-Mid Career Doctoral Student @Penn:
Could the root of the problem in all labor relationships, be becasue there is not a community of trust built in our schools? would not having a community of trust allieviate some of the "them vs Us " tensions?
When trust doesn't exist it is very hard to imagine doing collaborative work. However, if we waited for there to be trust among all parties, collaborations would be few and far between. Farsighted leaders might begin by inviting the other party(ies) to engage in low-risk, trust building activities: e.g joint study tours, joint professional development activities. They might ask the other party: "what do you think we could accomplish if we were working better together than we're accomplishing now?" "What's getting in the way of that work?" If the parties are open to it, a good facilitator might be able to help them define a joint scope of work. In the course of that work, there may need to be some processing of the difficulties and hurts of the past, but with a joint investment in a future together, it is more likely that these issues will get addressed. It is very hard to do this process work without an outside facilitator and it is important to pick someone who is genuinely neutral, would like to see a good working relationship between the parties and who will push each party to face their responsibility for the "mess" when necessary.
Question from Ruth Taylor, Independent Researcher:
Where in the country have these collaborative discussions yielded real change?
We found examples in big and small districts, rural and urban districts, in red states and blue states. Some you may have heard about in the past and others were news to even those of us who had been plowing this field. I am sure that EdWeek would like me to suggest that you take a look at our book. If you need a more immediate answer, you might look at the district represented by Don, who is superintendent in Poway. They've done some remarkable work and Don is an exemplar of collaborative leadership.
Question from P. S. Smith, Sp. Ed. Teacher, Rivers Middle:
I am a Self_contained teacher in a middle school. I have students from 8:00 a.m. until 3:45 p.m. I have no planning period. Regular Education teachers receive 90 minutes of planning daily. Planning is done on my own time; I receive no additional compensation. I do have an instructional assistant who receives a 15 minute morning break and a 15 minute afternoon break as well as an unencumbered lunch period. I am told that I have to be creative to allow times for restroom breaks and to eat lunch. How do other self-contained teachers deal with this?
This sounds like a contract issue. I'd take it up with mangement and my union -- you can't be the only one person with this problem. Most solutions arrived at together are the best ones and the best of those are solved at the lowest level of hierarchy. YOu have a contract, is it being adminstered correctly? You gotta have a break and a lunch sometime. Also, the IEPS of the students might also drive some of your time. Most states are pretty dogged around enforcing work breaks and lunches and if prep time is in the contract, then it's in the contrct.
If you don't have a contract or are in a non-bargaining state, I don't know what to tell you. Working wtiht the department and the administrator might be a way to go.
Question from Joe LaGuardia, Director of Personnel, North Royalton City Schools:
How do you change the culture of an organization so that the unions are receptive to an innovative approach such as Interest Based Bargaining?
If you want your union to adopt a new bargaining approach, I would begin by jointly learning from districts and unions that have used IBB sucessfully. If the outcomes of IBB are attractive to the union, then I would offer them training at the district's expense. It is always in the best interests of management to have union leaders be strong, competent and skilled because it takes all of these characteristics to innovate and help constituents innovate. Invest in your union leadership.
Question from Wayne Dilts, English Supervisor, Butler (NJ) High School:
My contract reads, "(s)upervisors will not be assigned a duty period, but will be assigned a HSPA and SRA responsibility instead." I teach the SRA class each year, yet they scheduled me to cover cafeteria duty for two years. When I brought the contract clause to the attention of my building principal in the middle of the school year last year, he immediately dropped the cafeteria assignment from my schedule. This year, however, I have been assigned in-school suspension duty, and the administration refuses to do anything about it. What can I do?
Sounds like a contract issue that could be brought up via your union. There should be a compact between the teachers and management that details these things. An administrator that makes up conditions as they wish is a problem.
Just because labor and management work together in solving problems doesn't mean the union abrogates its responsibility to members. This isn't softer bargaining, just smarter.
Question from Mary Christensen, teacher, Ontario Middle School:
We continue to hear the mantra of paying teachers better;however with the next breath is the question,how? Funding continues to be at the forefront of staff pay. What are some new innovative ideas toward funding education?
Your question is about new sources of money rather than how existing sources are distributed. This is part of a larger problem about funding public services, which have been in a fiscal crisis, at least in the US for some years. The issue of the actual levels of teacher salaries is one of social values and choices. Why do many failed corporate executives get millions in separation packages? Why do some companies that are cutting jobs pay executives bonuses? Who is paying? Who is making the decisons? Who is being paid?
As the level of "educational capital of a society" rises in importance in a globalized economy, it is more likely that teaching will be more highly valued by that society. Perhaps it is important that we remember to remind taxpayers and policy makers on whose backs the development of "educational capital" depends.
Question from Gary Hammonds, teacher, Knott Co. Central H.S.:
In our system we have a contract agreement that is considered one of the best in the state. However, in dealing with the present administration the last few years in negotiations,there has been a sticking point. The local association wants to upgrade and increase extracurricular pay. The administration turns this into a "use the 3%state raise money for across the board teacher raises, or for coaches,but will not give in to giving a portion for both". The reason is to use it as leverage to get concessions from the association. They have to, by law, give the raises to teachers. So they leave all extracurricular people angry and frustrated by low compensation. The negotiation team gives in and will not use a portion of the mandated raises. What suggestions on strategy can you give to us that we can put into play that will allow the association to " kill two birds with one stone"?
We bargain locally but have almost no control over the funding streams. So the interest-based process works to solve a problem. The problem is "extra-crr" pay. Using data to help determine solutions has been a huge asset in our own negotiations. A 10% raise in extra curricular pay sounds like a hefty number. But if you do the calculations, we discovered that the cost wasn't that staggering. And we figured out a way to cover that cost. Also a big data point would be what exactly is the dollar figure for a 3% raise that the state gave. It may actually yield some additional dollars depending on how the calculations are done. orgainizing the folks on the extra-curr schedule might be a way to get this done. You will probably ruffle some feathers, but waiting for someone else to deal with it isn't yielding results, is it?
Interest based problem solving solves problems. It isn't about positions, it's about smart decisions. In a very low money year (which seems like the last 5 in a row) we were strategic with the dollars we received -- and early retirement incentive, compaction of the salary schedule and a 10% boost in extra curricular. The dollars to do so weren't big, but it addressed issues.
Question from mabel chaplin, former special education teacher, JC Elementary School:
Without doubt all educators are links in the chain of stakeholders for positive student learning outcomes. Why are educators not given the opportunity to evaluate principals and the schools in which they serve?
In some districts teachers do evaluate principals. Often these evaluations are administered through the union and the results are sent to the superintendent who isn't obligated to act on them but would be foolish to ignore data that indicated problems in the practice of some principals. There is a growing tradition in corporate leadership for 360 evaluations - for diagnostic and developmental purposes if not evaluative purposes. This might be very helpful in school settings. It would be important that the evaluation go way beyond "popularity" issues and focus on how the principal is helping teachers create a productive learning community, raise student achievement and develop professionally.
Question from Mary Stenson, Chair, School Board:
Is there a proven practice way to move forward and gain some ground after a 3 hour bargaining session that went no where?
Yup! I've been there before. let me try a practical and real example that was driven home for me in the mid-90’s after a large demonstration at a school board meeting (500+ teachers, which was the script I had at that time). We had signs with a caricature the then superintendent with red circle/slash through it. Great fun and it was a great rallying cry. “What an evil guy” (and at the time, it felt like he was). The next day we had a mediated session and he refused to come to the table – I was indignant!. The mediator (an old pro) took me aside and said (“You made him look like an ######### last night. Give him time to cool off.” And it struck me how the supe must FEEL. It’s a human response. How could I have thought I could get a deal with him when he now hates MY guts! Dumb. I have never since then ever attacked the other person. I changed the game.
Our interest-based system now bargains all the time. Think of this metaphor: the contract in a bound text that is revised every couple of years and a contract in a three-ring binder that allows provision X to be changed at any time. Interest based problem solving solves problems (duh!) -- usually while they are small and not festering. Waiting until certain times of the year to solve issues isn't efficient or very smart. Now our teams meet periodically and solve issues as they come up. But this culture took a while to get to. And it isn't foolproof or THE SOLUTION. It's an alternative way of doing business that makes sense. You have to be willing to try and you MUST have training and an outside facilitator.
Perhaps a conversation about HOW you are bargaining with the union pres, the supe and you might be a way to start. Stay away from the WHAT and focus on the WHO and the HOW might at least start you in the right direction. Why bargain the way you always have if that way causes angst and upsets the system? These processes have matured over time, why can't we? something like that may help.
Question from Patricia Gatti, Teacher, Guidance Counselor, Achiever's Education Center:
How do you propose to increase teacher's salaries? Why are the salaries so diverse? In L.A. County teachers' starting rate is around $42,000; however, in NC they start out at $25,000, and I cannot even become certified in NC because they have such stringent requirements.
Competitive labor markets play a role in the difference between salaries in LA and NC. LA is competing against high paying suburban districts for good teachers. Add to that, the difference in the cost of housing in these two communities and you'll begin to see why LA has to offer more than NC. You might think that with NCLB the market for teachers was a national one, but in fact it is a local and regional market and local and regional economic conditions play a very big role. Unionization also plays a role. Teachers who belong to unions typically get paid more than teachers who do not.
Question from Teresa Lane, Assistant Superintendent McHenry High School District 156, McHenry, Illinois:
Our last labor negotiation session was difficult and left each side bitter. We are presently trying to settle a reopener on salary and benefits and will be negotiating a new contract starting the Spring of 2006. What advice do you have to try to resolve the bitterness and get our labor negotiations teams on the right track? We have been advised not to attempt Win-Win bargaining because if the players have not changed, it would not make a difference.
Don Raczka here: I know this was addressed to Linda but I just wanted to add in a real life example. LInda, I apologize for poaching in, but I have personnally been here. You don't have to change the "players" but if you want to move forward with an interest-based process you HAVE to get some of the old stuff out and talked about. We had what we called our "blood letting" that locked away both teams with a facilitator/mediator over three days that got all that old angst and hatred and personal hurt and "you said..." out on the table and dealt with. It was painful but really necessary for us to decide to move on. You can't just call a meeting and say we're going to change. Once you get the old stuff out and dealt with, you then can jointly decide to move forward. You can't get there alone. You must be trained together and have a facilitator. But I strongly advise getting the past dealt with in a forthright manner. It was more painful than counseling!
Question from Richard G. Neal, Consultant:
The NEA & AFT are the main impediments to substantive education reform, especially education choice. Between political control and restrictive labor contracts, union welfare prevails over student welfare.What can be done to break this stranglehold?
Your question starts with a set of assumptions that lead to only one answer. I start with another set of assumptions: Where teachers are organized, it is in the best interests of management to engage teachers and their representatives in meaningful and purposeful work aimed at improving student achievement and professional development. Based on my experience and the evidence I found, it is very possible to do this work. However, it requires that management recognize and respect the legitimacy of teacher organizations otherwise there will be a constant struggle between the parties. It is impossible to define and make progress on mutual goals if you aren't legitimated and respected by your "partners".
If you believe that teacher unions are the "main impediments to substantive education reform" then you will create the very stuggle you claim exists.
Question from Sally Flaherty, union leader, IU 6 EA:
How do we get management to pay/reward professional development beyond the work day?
We've got a good start onthis one in my union. But we've been interest-based for a number of years and this one took a while to get developed. Look, most salary schedules are about compensation for years of experience and university units/advanced degrees. At the very simplest level, why shouldn't credit be given for good staff development that happens in the NOW and not just college units that happened 15 years ago? Shouldn't this make sense to everyone in the system? Figuring out a way to get there isn't so easy, right? We had to start with some basic mutual interests: What is good staff developement and how does increased teacher quality affect student learning? Those answers are out there and are clear -- job imbedded, good research-based skills, not a one-shot deal, etc. So if we all believe in those premises, how do we devise a system that rewards professionals for increasing their skills and knowledge? We had to fight against the system of the district provided staff development (and the folks who work in that department BELIEVE they have the answers) to a system that is now jointly managed and is teacher-based rather than someone determining "THIS is what you need". And we found some funds (title II dollars mostly) to use to compensate the folks who continue to grow. and we're compenstating the continuing part rather than a discrete set of workshops). Starting the conversation about what you might share with management regarding staff development might be a better approach than "here's a proposal".
Question from Phil Cordella, President Newburgh Teachers' Association AFT Loacal 2867, Newburgh, NY:
Could you describe the role, if any, teachers have had in evaluating or commenting on administrator performance?
Did this fostered positive relations and help increase your voice in educational policy?
We have had a system of "Adminstrator Effectiveness survey" in place for several years -- and it surveys what you might expect such surveys to do. It has gained more credibility over time based on three changes: We changed the name from "Evaluation" to "Survey"; We only process schools that submit at least 50% responses (not jsut the "gripers"); and we submit the results to the superintendent and the school board AFTER the union Rep at the site discusses it with the principal.
But that doesn't get you where you asked about. Frankly, it reinforces good behaviors at sites and points out problems-- and the latter outcome certainly doesn't foster a positive relationship with that particular principal. What gets to you more voice in educational policy is the willingness to take on issues of learning through the collective bargaining agreement. focusing on kids and learnign WITH management gets more voice. And really, I can't think of many members who don't care about their kids and learning. This is fertile ground for moving your union forward.
Question from Miles Myers, Senior Researcher, ISCA, Los Angeles:
Don: How much of your current agreements governing your Peer Review Project are inside the contract and outside the contract? What holds your current outside of contract provisions in place? Trust? Board resolutions? Personal relations? Community politics?
Hello Miles: I hope you are doing well. I've found in my district that the willingness of management to risk going "out there" on intiatives is in direct relationship with "putting it into the contract". The solution I've stumbled across that works for my district's culture is to start the agreements with termed "memos of understanding" that must be renewed. They are enforceable under the grievance process and the "renewal" piece gives management the cover to close down the process -- gives them an out. However, the agreements are so good and they work so well that they soon get folded into the master agreement. "pilots" let's everyone risk. But you've got to have some trust in each other that everyone really wants the thing to work. Our peer program, now 18 years old, is still a one-page agreement with a 30-day cancellation clause. But the key is the "renewal" part. Got to follow-through getting the one year agreements into the master contract.
Question from Jim Mordecai, Teacher, Oakland Unified School District, Oakland Education Association member:
Can we be honest that there is a Milton Friedman based ideology that is exploiting reform movements to advance an agenda to privatize public education as we know it. What safeguards do each reform have in place to prevent their exploitation by such an agenda?
Safeguards are your contract agreements. I'm with you on the ideological piece. But most of the agreements we've taken on in our master contract are OUR reforms. Things like teacher quality, peer review (now in our 18th year), staff development, teaching standards, joint management of our special ed strategic plan. Those aren't someone else's reforms, they're our own.
Question from Miles Myers, Senior Researcher, ISCA, Los Angeles:
Linda: Your win-win book seems to suggest that union-management strife is higher than ever. Isn't it true that in most states (California, for example)teacher strikes are way down?
You are right, the number of teacher strikes, like all strikes, are at a historic low. I didn't choose the title of the book, so perhaps my intention for the substance of the book isn't being conveyed. I am arguing that it is possible for the collective bargaining process to contribute to school reform/improving student achievement goals. Districts all over the country are experimenting with jointly designed and in many cases, jointly governed provisions that allow the right teachers to get into the right classrooms, that maximize the use of the school day for learning, thatpropel professional development and provide incentives for improving student achievement.
Question from Miles Myers, Senior Researcher, ISCA, Los Angeles:
Don: Your Union's initiative with Management to involve teachers in policy matters seems to come at a time when the State is taking over more and more local decisions, turning local people into compliance police. What policy involvement has resulted from this project?
We're changing the delivery and compensation of continuous staff development. We have a joint team taking on the issues of improved writing and success in algebra as well as a joint team in charge of implementing the Spec Ed strategic plan (which we had a major role in writing). These folks are really setting the policy for the district and are compensated on a career ladder based on additional time and responsibility. We're now taking on the issue of teacher leadership and site leadership. those are more SYSTEM changes -- how the system will take on those policy issues. But Land-o-Goshins are you right about less and less freedom to get the job done for kids. Our interest based system uses data to drive a lot of our decisiions and our district budget is now analyzed and understood by the joint labor/mangement team (actually a very smart decision by our superintendent, Don Phillips. Who is a terrific leader). We are getting squeezed more and more every year by the state. I do not believe in charters as an answer to today's problems. But I would be intrigued by a "charter district" free from the state -- Let my people go!
Question from Miles Myers, Senior Researcher, ISCA, Los Angeles:
Don: If the bread and butter issues go sour in the Union-Management relationship, is it possible to maintain working relationships in those "off contract" agreements? If this is a problem, what is the solution? If not a problem, why not?
The more I do this work the more convinced I am that at its core, it's about relationships. Interest-based has worked here. But it only has to NOT work once before the apple-throwers come out -- and maybe rightly so. These last five years of one budget slashing governor after another has tried this system. But the use data to drive the decision and we together have taken great pains to keep our entire system at least aware of the devastation ($16 million in the last five years) has kept us with a forward momentum. We've made smart and strategic fiscal decisions TOGETHER. We don't have any budget surprises! At the heart of this is the relationship between the supe and myself. Would those initiatives have been put into place if one or the other of us weren't around? I'm not so sure. I think my work is now how to bring the system so it's not so person-dependent.
Question from Tate Gould, Education student, UNC Chapel Hill:
Looking at the history of innovative contract approaches between unions and local school boards, it seems that success is determined by individuals in both "camps" agreeing to tear down the decades of division that previously existed.
What role can the state play in fostering partnerships between ALL unions and their local schools boards, instead of leaving it up to the local unions and school boards to work it out?
Great question! The legal statutes that define the roles of the parties and the nature (and limitations) of collective bargaining are the first place to start. Does the state statute mandate that a contract address how to attain or improve student achievement (or close the achievement gap)? What does the state statute say about the responsibilities and accountability of school boards for student achivement? Does the state provide technical assistance, in the form of mediation or facilitation, for districts and unions to work on these issues together? (Heavily unionized states often have very good state employee relations boards that do this work, California and Ohio are good example). Does the state commissioner of education include union officers in leadership summits about educational goals, processes, policies? Do they, as Ohio does, regularly convene a meeting of the superintendents and union presidents of the largest districts, to work on educational policy issues together? Perhaps school board members should be included in such discussions.
These are some places to start to do the work at the state rather than local level.
Question from Klare Shaw, Senior Advisor for Education Arts and Culture:
Are there any public school systems where two models of possible innovation 1)pay for performance and 2) peer assesment and review combined with mentoring; are working well and have union support?
Yes to peer reivew and mentoring. Look at Toledo, among other districts we discuss in the book. The Toledo Federation of Teachers has information on this topic on their website.
Re: pay for performance. The evidence is very thin about the ability to link teacher pay to performance and to design and implement sustainable programs. I must say as someone who worked on pay for performance systems in industrial settings, I wasn't surprised about this. In order for a pay for performance system to work well, employees must both have control over all the main factors that effect outcomes AND those factors must be visible and measurable by the employee. This situation doesn't exist in most schools.
The current state of the art is either to design pay for performance systems around school level goal rather than classroom or individual student goals, or to design it around a combination of student achievement goals and professional development goals.
This is a topic that has a lot more rhetorical appeal (it sure makes sense to say "let's pay better teachers more") than technical possibility.
Question from David Crusoe, Ed.M HGSE '05:
Recent media, education and industry reports have highlighted the need for US schools to focus on developing students' STEM knowledge. As the chat description mentions, "prolonged battles over pay and working conditions... [can] ...drain away the resources, energy, and focus" from educating students - theoretically from STEM teaching. Ultimately, the for-profit sector is harmed by a lack of capable graduates.
Given this linkage, is it possible for the for-profit sector to assume a beneficial role in negotiating labor disputes? Could you describe what this role might be?
If you mean the "for-profit sector" you are referring to private businesses that are likely employers of graduates of public schools -- the answer is "yes". This is particularly true if the business community 1) has had good experiences with labor-managment work 2) is willing to play a convening role in multi-stakeholder problem solving 3) is willing to add resources for development of new skills and capacities of district and union leadership 4) is willing to partner or otherwise support pilots or experiments that the district-union design, implement, govern, evaluate with each other.
Question from Charles Meeker, Board Member, Port Huron Area School District:
How best can a district get its employees to understand that its financial position is as precarious as it appears to Board Members?
I’ve become a real believer in data-driven decisions. The teams should be able to agree on the data – if not, then that’s really at the core of most traditional bargaining problems. “You’ve got the money, we should get it” “We’re broke” Those are value statements. The question should become “Let’s together do a complete analysis of the district’s budget and agree on what we can agree upon and get what we don’t agree upon on the table”. Data almost always drives better decisions. And it’s good decisions we both should be after, not a win. As a school board member, I'd get both teams in the room with an outside expert on school district budgets and LEARN the system. You will have to risk having the facts out there and be willing to listen to the union's advice. The union has to risk because, believe me, it is much easier to stand on the outside and throw apples than it is to be part of the tree-tenders. You don’t start with trust. You start with acting trustworthy. If you’re lucky, you may get to the trust part down road. Honesty, good data and focusing on the problem are foundations to the interest-based process.
Question from Tom Ramming, Superintendent, Grand Island, NY:
What evidence is there to suggest "win-win" and meaningful collaboration are sustainable over the long-term and can survive teacher/administrator/board turnover?
You're spot on. the "sustainable" part is big. But consider the alternative. No matter what process you use -- Interest-based or traditional -- you eventually get to an agreement. the process is the HOW, not the WHAT. We've had a peer-review system in place since 1987. That agreement is one page and can be terminated with a 30-day notice from either party. Yet it is now the culture in our system. We couldn't conceive of a first year teacher being inducted into our system and evaluated by anyone other than a teacher reporting to a peer-board of review. Why? Because it works. So the collaboration part is both the HOW and as you increase the scope of the topics, the WHAT). The more I do this work, howver, the more convinced I am that at its core, it's about relationships. Interest-based has worked here. At the heart of this is the relationship between the supe (a terrific and smart leader) and myself. Would those initiatives have been put into place if one or the other of us weren't around? I'm not so sure. I think my work is now how to bring the system so it's not so person-dependent.
Question from John Grehan, volunteer, DC:
Do you have any thoughts about the use of a mediation or other program to resolve teaching/staff disputes in a non-union setting? Thanks.
In non-union settings you don't have the formal processes that laws or a collective bargaining agreement define, so it is very important to create a "voice" and "resolution" mechanism to deal with disputes/conflict. Otherwise they fester and can create costs and dysfunction. An organizational ombudsman or professional mediation service might be helpful. Of course, it is exactly for this reason that many teachers form unions.
Question from Robley Jones, Director of Government Relations, VA Education Association:
What can teachers in non-bargaining states do to bring their states to offer competitive salaries? We are always behind, and this makes it difficult to attract and retain high quality personnel.
Even if you don't have collective bargaining through which to formalize salary negotiations, it is still possible to demonstrate the effects of non-competitive wages, benefits and conditions and make the case that the effects have hidden costs and visible consequences. For example, what is the relationship between salaries and turnover? Does the turnover rate in your districts exceed the turnover rate in matched districts in a state with collective bargaining? What is the fully loaded cost of replacing teachers who leave because of non-competitive salaries and benefits? Do you know, for example, the SAT scores of teachers (one measure of "quality") in your state, compared to those of teachers in states that have bargaining? These are all measures that might open the conversation with legislators about the role that low salaries, benefits and conditions play in attracting and retaining "high quality personnel".
Question from Charlie Contant, Parent, Springfield Public Schools Springfield MA:
The City of Springfield has been on the brink of recievership for two years and is currently under the leadership of a state appointed Control Board. The Spfld Education Association(SEA) has been without a contract for 4 years. The SEA and control board have been in negotiations since June with a mediator. All municpal wages including step araises have been fozen since April 03. We have lost a very signifcant percentage of our teachers to less needy surround communities. The parties seem to be at an impasse. How can parents impact this negotiations to drive both side towards resolution?
Yikes! What a crisis! Without getting into the details of the bargaining, your place at the table is through the school board -- oops out of time. Good luck.
Question from Margaret Ames, PTA Member,:
Parents are often pressed by the union to support the teachers cause, yet both sides choose to negoiate in private. As the contract makes up the largest percentage of the school district budget, shouldn't parents have an opportunity to read the proposals and make statements. Actual negotiations could still be held in private.
Yes. Parent and non-parent taxpayers might even have a larger role than the one you suggest. In theory the school board, if elected by residents, is supposed to be a stand in parents. However, some districts have experiemented with parent-observers at the collective bargaining table. These observers do not bargain and are bound by the same rules of confidentiality and public disclosure that bind the other parties. However, they can participate in processes such as brainstorming, problem solving, joint study, reporting to constituents (within the constraints of the rules on disclosure). If the parties can work out rules that satisfy their concerns, this might be helpful.
Question from Dolores Moran, Special Education 5th grade teacher ,Jaffrey Grade School:
Would your innovative approaches differ for rural schools? If so, how?
The only difference might be the amount of resources (people, money) that parties are able to contribute to learning about these innovations. That's one of the reasons why I wrote this book --- some of the larger unions/districts have the resources and the demand to innovate and some of the medium sized unions/districts have the resources to learn from them but smaller and more rural districts/unions might need low costs ways to learn -- hopefully manager, political leaders and union leaders can use the book to learn together.
Question from Joe Gerzina, Educational Consultant and Union President, IU 6, Clarion, PA:
What would contract language look like that gave teachers some authority as "instructional leaders"?
We have a number of examples in the book on exactly this topic. UFT in New York, Toledo and several other districts are doing very creative things with this concept.
Question from Steve Hodgman, Souhegan High School:
Our school does not have union memebership. We have, since the school opened 13 years ago, had a personnel committee (comprising teachers, school board members, faculty and staff) address salary and benefits issues on an annual basis. Resulting contract agreements have been relatively amicable, but we in no way have a bargaining unit and without that or a union there are real perceptions of a growing gap between our salary and benefits schedule and those of middle and grade school teachers in the same town who are unionized and deal with a different school board (the high school incorporates 2 towns and therefore has it's own separate school board). What suggestions do you have for approaching the issues of equity for teachers and staff in the same town who have no union and no bargaining unit?
Go beyond perceptions and do actual research on that gap. If it is a public system, the contract and salary grid should be public information. Do a salary survey among the teachers in your system so that you can speak from real data. Then create a grid demonstrating the differences.
Are you losing teachers to the unionized system or better paying systems outside your community? The real salary gap and the loss of teachers should be important to the management of your system. Remember -- there is a real cost to replacing teachers who leave because of low salaries. It shows up as an administrative cost rather than a salary cost.
Question from Carol J. Brandert, USD 305 BOE, Salina, KS:
Can IBB be modified/streamlined to require less time? Why does the teachers' union notice the entire contract yearly and keep adding new items as talks continue?
IBB is time consuming, especially the first time you use it. That is the main drawback of the process. If at all possible, it might be a good idea to try to structure negotiations so that a bulk of the negotiators on both sides are experienced with IBB. The teacher union may be adding topics in order to appease disgruntled members or because the groundrules do not forbid the practice. Look objectively at the topics they are adding midway. Are they substantive? Why didn't the issue come up earlier? Perhaps that will help you understand what is driving this behavior.
Kevin Bushweller (Moderator):
Thank you for joining us for today's chat, and for asking thoughtful questions. We would also like to extend a special thanks to our guests for taking the time to answer your questions.
The Fine Print
All questions are screened by an edweek.org editor and the guest speaker prior to posting. A question is not displayed until it is answered by the guest speaker. We cannot guarantee that all questions will be answered, or answered in the order of submission. Guests and hosts may decline to answer questions. Concise questions are encouraged.
Please be sure to include your name and affiliation when posting your question.
All questions are screened by an edweek.org editor prior to posting. A question is not displayed until the moderator poses it to the guest(s). Due to the volume of questions received, we cannot guarantee that all questions will be answered, or answered in the order of submission. Guests and hosts may decline to answer any questions. Concise questions are strongly encouraged.
Please be sure to include your name when posting your question.
Get more stories and free e-newsletters!
- Partner Engagement Manager
- AVID Center, Southern California
- Join Great Oaks Legacy Charter School for a Virtual Career Fair for Teachers
- TopSchoolJobs eXPO, Camden, New Jersey
- Teacher of the Blind / Visually Impaired
- Detroit Lakes Public Schools, Detroit Lakes, Minnesota
- ESE Teacher
- Duval County Public Schools, Jacksonville, Florida
- Join Futures Education for a Virtual Career Fair for Teachers
- TopSchoolJobs eXPO, Springfield, Massachusetts