Monday, January 3, 2011

Trial Date Set for Grandview C-4 & Teacher's Union

Case could impact Hickman Mills and others

By Paul Thompson & Mary Kay Morrow
The Grandview C-4 and Hickman Mills C-1 School Districts have been battling their teachers associations over collective bargaining rights. Now, the Grandview National Education Association (GNEA) is taking their case to court. A trial has been set for May of 2011, and the implications could reach into Hickman Mills and other school districts as well.
Teachers in the C-4 district currently solve bargaining issues through the Grandview 10, a panel of teachers and administrators that work together to solve any teacher association issues and concerns. But according to current GNEA president Rebeka McIntyre, there is still a major flaw with the Grandview 10. 
"The Grandview 10 decisions are simply a collection of agreements," McIntyre said. "The problem with that, the flaw, is that it is not a legally binding document."
That means that decisions and agreements made within the Grandview 10 hold no actual contractual weight and can be altered at the district's will. The GNEA cites a 2005 Supreme Court ruling to defend its stance that their teacher's association agreement needed to be contractual. The ruling stated that "teachers had the right to bargain collectively through a representative of their own choosing to reach a binding contract," according to McIntyre.
While that decision gave teachers the right to bargain collectively, there was still no law in place to enforce it. So GNEA and other associations have been mired in a sort of no-man's-land ever since. 
"It's hard to know what the Supreme Court ruling means and what the ramifications of it are, at least for the majority of school boards in Missouri," said C-4 Superintendant Dr. Ralph Teran.
The Grandview Board of Education adopted a policy know as Policy HH to deal with negotiations in the meantime.
"HH is the recommended policy from the Missouri School Boards Association," said Teran about the board's decision to adhere to Policy HH. "I don't think there is any deviation from their wording."
"The Springfield School District went through, about a year-year and a half ago, about the same thing we're going through now," Teran continued. "They didn't find that the policy was wrong." 
McIntyre argues that the policy only serves to disenfranchise the Grandview 10, and keep teachers from getting the solid representation that they deserve.
"At the end of last year, the district adopted policy HH, which is a teacher's negotiating policy," McIntyre said. "Policy HH undercuts the decision that says you can bargain. It allows for the possibility of multiple representatives instead of just exclusive representatives."
McIntyre said that C-4 District attorney Duane Martin at one point actually crafted a policy that the GNEA approved of, but that policy didn't stick.
"The first reading of Martin's policy was approved (by the Grandview school board). Several months later they rescinded the approval and adopted HH," McIntyre said.
Teran acknowledged that this was the case, explaining that the board went with Martin's original policy first, but that they changed their minds because the original policy called for exclusive representation. Grandview teachers had previously used two unions--GNEA and the Grandview Missouri State Teachers Association (MSTA) --until this fall, when teachers voted to have exclusive representation, and to give that job to GNEA.
The Grandview 10 had included 1 MSTA representative and 4 from GNEA--based on the proportional number of teachers each represented in the district. Now, the Grandview 10 does not include an MSTA representative for the first time since the 1980s.
 With their case now set to go to trial, GNEA is pushing for swift action to be made. Grandview's litigation is likely to be an intriguing case to other districts facing similar collective bargaining issues.
"The same conversations are happening in Hickman, in Belton, in Ray-Pec," McIntyre said about the case. "If we can play a role in making better policy, that's good for everybody. Ultimately, we have 333 teachers in the bargaining unit who need a good binding contract."
Hickman Mills is only a couple of steps behind the Grandview School District, as their teachers association is mired in a similar battle.  At a recent Hickman Mills School Board meeting, a spokesperson from the Missouri National Education Association echoed the call for bargaining rights. MNEA President for Hickman Mills Teresa Ambler asked the board to consider a collective bargaining agreement for teachers.  
Ambler's group is awaiting a response to a letter sent to the board several weeks ago asking for exclusive representation for teachers to initiate a collective bargaining contract for Hickman Mills teachers. Ambler would like to see more teeth put into agreements reached between the administration and teacher representatives during the district's current once-a-month process known as "meet and confer."
While the "meet and confer" process provides an opportunity for teachers and administrators to reach agreement on issues, just like in Grandview it does not represent a binding agreement.  The district may adopt, change, or reject agreed-upon provisions reached during "meet and confer" negotiations.
 She gave the example of class size equity to explain the importance of collective bargaining.  Ambler doesn't understand why some teachers are overloaded, while others teaching the same subject, at the same grade level, in the same building, have smaller class sizes.
"If we go into a collective bargaining contract, it will enable us to say, 'All classroom teachers would have maybe a minimum of 20 students and a maximum of 25' and we would ensure there was (class size) equity in all teaching subjects."
McIntyre echoed Ambler's sentiments.
"Do we have a voice in curriculum? Who's tutoring our students? It comes down to much more than the paycheck," said McIntyre about some of her concerns regarding bargaining. In fact, she says that money is a non-factor in the litigation. Grandview teachers already have salaries and amount of days worked locked in under contract. It really comes down to better working conditions for their teachers, and in turn, C-4 students.
McIntyre says the GNEA needed to take action to make sure that those teachers and students weren't negatively affected by bad policy.
"It's a bad policy, and GNEA filed suit to keep the policy from being spread. It's a bad policy for teachers, so it's a bad policy for kids."

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