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Thursday, October 29, 2009

Is Greeley District Six School Board Going Union Busting?

A little excitement with your prairie coffee? There are disturbing things going on between the Greeley Colorado District 6 School Board and the Teacher's Union--Greeley Education Association. Could the District 6 School Board be working a strategy to bust the Teacher's Union? There are contracts being placed in teacher's school mailboxes and at least some teachers feel they are under pressure to sign or they will be fired. Both Trimberger and Broderius of the Greeley District 6 School Board have their stamped signature on the contract.

Please say it isn't so District 6.

The School Board has stated at its most recent meeting that it has adopted it's last contract offer to the Teacher's Union. Ninety percent of the GEA turned that contract offer down prior to this meeting. There is a statement posted to the District 6 School Board's website on the topic. The release is dated October 26, 2009. In it the school board cites that other staff will need to be laid off if the board honors what its previous promises and also grants current cost of living increases.

At its regular business meeting Monday evening, the District 6 Board of Education voted to render a final decision on the financial compensation items of the teachers union contract for the 2009-10 school year.
The Board approved the following compensation package for teachers for the 2009-10 school year:
• The district will pay the increased cost of contributions to the state retirement system (PERA)
• The district will pay the increased cost of health, dental and vision insurance
• The district will pay for educational advancement on the salary schedule for teachers (often
referred to as “lane” raises or “horizontal movement” raises)
• The district will increase the per-hour pay rate for teachers’ non-contract work to $25 per hour
(currently is $18)
The master agreement contract between District 6 and the Greeley Education Association calls for the Board of Education to make the final determination on matters that have not been resolved through the regular negotiations process or through meditation (Article 5-e-3). Mediation between the district and the union was held on Sept. 25, with the assistance of a federal mediator, but ended without an
agreement on salaries and benefits.
“This was a difficult decision to make, because we do care deeply about our teachers and hold them in high regard. But these are very difficult financial times for the district and also for our local communities and our state,” said Board President Bruce Broderius. “Financially, this is the best we can do. As disappointing as it is for all of us to be in the situation that we are, I truly hope we can still develop a partnership with the union to preserve jobs, to avoid layoffs, and to do what we can to lessen the fiscal crisis that will strike at the heart of our district in 2010.”
Salaries and wages for all of the district’s administrative and support staff employees were frozen at the beginning of the 2009-10 school year, remaining at last year’s levels.

The above statement tries to place the Board's decision into the context that it is acting under the current contract to make the final decision. I have not seen that current contract. It makes sense that some formal resolution in the case of an impasse to keep every one operating could be contained in the contract. And I certainly do not have the legal background to constructively comment that what the Board is doing is legally questionable. I think though from a humane perspective, from a public relations perspective they, the Board, just put the bus in a ditch.

However, currently, there is a contract being dispersed throughout the school district in teacher's mailboxes and some teachers are under the belief that if they do not sign this contract they will be fired. This document is dated October 19, 2009. Other teachers, I hear, are packing their bags, if not now, then at the end of this year.

Here is a link to the contract teachers found in their mailboxes this week. I've posted a photo copy of a contract with personal information removed.

If the Board is continuing to operate underneath the old contract then what is this "other" contract all about? Why does it come without clear instructions on intent to the teachers? It has at-will employment law clauses in the new contract and it labels a long-standing teacher as a non-probationary employee. This would be, my assumption, bad faith actions if it was handled while active mediation was ongoing. That is at a minimum. If negotiations have now formally ended, and if the current contract is null and void because there wasn't any consensus reached, then is the Board indicating that it will fire any teacher unwilling to sign this new document or is the Board just trying to edge out the Union by breaking off chunks of the membership and getting them to sign independent of the Union while things are in transition? Certainly newbie young teachers without anything to gain in experience ratings or salary increases might be tempted to sign this contract under the duress of losing their job.

Where is the District's highly-paid Superintendent in all these matters? Why hasn't the Superintendent addressed her staff and the public?

My hope is that the Union is seeking to call a meeting ASAP for the teachers. That meeting needs to give teachers the ability to ask Union lawyers some good questions. For example, what does it mean if I sign this contract with the School District (union teachers say they have not been asked to personally sign a contract in years--the Union negotiates their contracts for them). Does this mean I am bound to a contract without representation of my union? How can I be forced under duress of losing my job into signing a contract? Those are just beginners.

It seems a wonderful coincidence that the Board has danced this long with this Union until right up before the election cycle. Perhaps the Board has confidence that the Greeley public will not be supportive of the teachers considering the voters may turn away the Mill Levy Override. Even if the Mill Levy Override passes the District Board will be sitting pretty because they have strongly emphasized through out the Mill Levy Campaign that certified staff (teachers) will not receive any pay benefits from Measure 3A. So the District won't be needing to go back and revisit their current decision to abort negotiations and render a nonconsensual contract on their teachers.

A nice pickle to put the Union in. A nice pickle for the Union to get itself into.

A scenario: If the District 6 Board pushes teachers into a panic mode and gets several teachers to sign these contracts what does that mean to the Union and their representation of the teachers. Is the Board trying to alienate teachers from their Union with this dog and pony show?

That isn't the only benefit the Board might receive. If teachers get upset and walk off the job they can be replaced with newbies. If teachers sign the contract being shoved under their pen and then leave at the end of the year when public rancor has died down--the Board will get to hire "newbies".

It doesn't get more corporate than the above scenario folks. Public education is not a business for a reason. Making teachers into manipulated widgets does not build the type of experiential investment needed to produce the results necessary for Greeley kids to compete in the big world. All efforts should be made to retain experienced talent and to mix in new and rising talent along the way. It is all part of a good human resources personnel. Teachers are the productive asset in any education system.

With the Tribune trumpeting the Board's position and the District Superintendent Ms. Lang nowhere within the common public reach and Mr. Eads being allowed to be the district spokesperson it is going to be up to the teachers and the public to demand real answers to the budgetary questions. It is a very easy time frame in which to manipulate public opinion against the teachers.

Unfortunately there are a lot of other scenarios that could be at play here. Parties within negotiations and mediation often are tongue-tied for good reason. Contracts can have some funky clauses on "what happens next". Hence stories and rumors coming to the outside world can get very distorted. Both the Board and the GEA will need public support as this gets touchy. It would nice to think that one or the other group will play fair and openly with the community. Public relation manipulation is yesterday's game plan. Today it is all about being honest and transparent. It is only fair that the Board be allowed to clear up their actions by better informing, clearly and meaningfully, the strategic purpose of their plans.

This Board appears to have little credibility based on past performance--perceived or actual. That image problem, in and of itself, regardless of the source which began the problem, has put the Board in a poor position on community leadership. Credibility is essential in your governmental systems and this Board's credibility is on the line. Will the Board obfuscate and make the situation worse? Or will they be forthcoming and transparent with their teachers and begin taking some steps toward healing. Poor press management and poor spokesperson choices is likely just to darken the skies ahead.

Certainly the Board, and the Board's employee Superintendent Lang, would have known for a while that by keeping experienced teachers around there would be step increases and other associated rise in labor costs. The bottleneck is a sign of long term poor planning. It can't all be about the economic downturn.

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