Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Teacher Contract Language

Warning: Long Post Ahead!!

Last week, Polski3 published a post about why the union contract negotiators routinely bargained away pay increases. In the comments, I posted this question:

As I am considering a run for the local school board and having less than zero experience with collective bargaining negotiations, I wonder what would satisfy you about contract langugage? Beyond pay raises that is.

We are all adults and know that the money to pay teachers is both finite and rediculously low. But barring pay increases, what provisions would increase your happiness?

Polski then responded with this post, which I have quoted below. With due respect to Polski, I have rearranged many of the complaints and interspersed my comments. Although this began as information exercise for me, I am hoping the dialoge between us will enlighten others. I have pulled the contract for my local school district, which can be viewed here.

  • How about having hot water available when we wash our hands?

  • How about having restroom facilities for the teachers and staff that don't entail making a dash across campus during a four minute passing period ?

  • How about teachers having the proper furnishings in their classrooms, including a soft, district office minion sort of chair for the teacher for when we have a chance to sit.....

  • How about full internet access for our computers and the trust that as professional educators, we won't neglect our students while we are playing online poker abusing the internet in other ways.

  • How about each and every classroom having modern technology to use in helping our students learn ? This means more than a telephone, a single computer and a small screen TV and VCR.

  • How about making sure there is enough toilet paper for the staff restroom ?

  • How about a teachers "lounge" that has a restroom facility ?

  • How about a printer for our computer that can print in color?

  • How about actively seeking funding to build someplace indoors with air conditioning where our students can eat lunch when it is 100+ degrees (and maybe humid), in August, September and October, April, May and June ?

  • How about actively seeking funding to just paint our peeling, sun blistered schools. Some color other than 'beige' or 'desert tan' might be nice too.

  • How about actively seeking funding for new classrooms to replace the trashy portable trailers in which too many teachers are holding class.

Unless you happen to be a teacher in a school built in the last ten years, many of these issues seem to be a function of school construction and design. In my district of Frederick County Maryland, many of these issues would fall into the capital budget, which is subject to a number of vagaries, including politics at the state and county level.

But casting that side, a few common sense items would helpful here. First, no offense to all the teachers out there, but if you have to run across campus to go the bathroom, why not go in the nearest one? Just because it is a "student" bathroom, doesn't mean it has different plumbing. Having a bathroom in the teacher's lounge is a good idea, but unless the lounge was planned from the start, that ain't going to happen.

Now the technology issues should be addressed. Personally, I can see no reason why every teacher should not have a county issued laptop, with full, unfettered internet access. You don't need fully wired schools any more. A wireless hub (which cost about $70 at Best Buy or Staples) can be placed in clusters around the school, which then provide network and internet access, with various network printers available, including color printers (which can be obtained commercially for pretty cheap these days.) The fact that these are not addressed by a school system seems to be a travesty to me. But on the other hand, while teachers may ask for these on a district wide basis, I figure that the availability differs from school to school.

Working Conditions
  • How about reducing class sizes by two or three students, from 35 to 32 max. per class ?

  • How about NOT forcing the district PE teachers to teach "over the contract class size limit, and teaching on their prep period. How about hiring some more PE teachers for your junior high schools so the PE teachers are not teaching classes of 45-50 students in 100 degree plus heat?

Fine. But keep in mind that the smaller the class size, the more teachers that have to be hired. As I argued before, hiring more teachers, while politically a good thing, has consequences for teacher quality and pay. I am all for this on a parental level, but on a school board level, it has consequences. Of course, I can also imagine a different scenario.

Would teachers be willing to exchange smaller classes for fewer classes? If you could take one class a day and divide those kids into other classes, would teachers be willing to do it? Thus instead of 28 or 30 kids in a class, you get 34-35 a class. Consequently, instead of one planning period, you have two no-class periods. In return, the extra period would be used for school administrative duties, not your own. Thus, I could reduce the number of administrators at a school, if teachers would be willing to do some administrative work, including answering the phones. I figure, I could have six teachers replace one full-time administrative person, saving that money and disbursing it to teachers. Of course, union negotiators would go nuts, but I could get teachers a pay raise.

Professionalism and Professional Development
  • How about a teacher to teacher mentoring program for newly hired, new to the classroom, teachers ? As it is, newly hired new to the classroom teachers are thrown into their classrooms and maybe told, "good luck".

  • How about a paid sabbatical after ten years of full-time teaching for us to take classes, travel, or just take a break.

  • How about release time to go visit other schools to see what our fellow teachers are doing and perhaps get some new ideas ?

  • How about teachers being allowed the time and professional status to get our classrooms ready for school and not stuck in dreadfully boring meetings that have nothing to do with our kids or performing our job?

  • How about teachers being allowed to make the professional decision to attend, on our own time, 'Back to School Night' or 'Open House Night' to talk to parents instead of it being mandated by the district office

  • How about teacher input on inservice training that fits our professional development needs and the needs of our students instead of having our professional growth day inservices provided by lackeys of Dr. KOP or the latest form of regurgitated educational theory and newly created vocabulary for the same ideas that were around 25-30 years ago?

  • How about teachers having the freedom to teach the standards as we feel would best serve our students instead of a cookie cutter program that seems to emphasize being on page 32 on a certain date and teaching it until the students demonstrate they have learned it.

I know that some superintendants, (at least the Ed Wonks' Dr. Evil) don't view teachers a professionals, but what do these things cost? Certainly, in service training has some costs associated with as well as other professional development. If these costs were picked up by the school district (or the union), what would teachers be willing to give up as a unit? (remember this is a negotiation) Would a larger class size limit, instead of 32, make it 35, be acceptable?

Why is it a union, with the supposed purpose of improving the professional lot of its members ignore such things as development and networking? Why is not one day afforded to all teachers to attend other schools and observe and talk to their peers? Aside from the cost of the substitute, what other costs are involved?

From a school board persepective, how will these professional development exercises impact student learning? Can you show me data that such exchanges improve student performance? As a potential school board member, I have an obligation to the citizens to make sure that student achievement comes first. If that means I have to screw over the teachers a little, that may be the price. From my own professional viewpoint as an attorney, professional development is required and often comes out of my own pocket, although generous employers will cover some costs.

I suspect that many of these issues are not raised by union negotiators. If they are not raised, how then can they be negotiated into a contract? If union members start to agitate a little more about issues like this, on a group basis, then such items may appear on a bargain list.

Because I couldn't easily classify these, each will get a separate response
How about sending your multitude of educational experts you call "coordinators" into the classrooms to model how to teach our high ELL, Low Socio-Economic population of students instead of hammering the teachers for not following the *&^%$#@% pacing guide produced by the textbook company ?

I don't know. I agree that real world modeling is important. This is more a function of poor R&D by curriculum experts and not necessarily a negotiable item.

How about a district-wide alternative school for those students who just cannot keep from consistently interfering with the educational opportunity of the vast majority of students who DO want to learn ?

I know a lot of retired military drill instructors who could do the job sought here. Yet, at the same time, the ACLU and the "self-esteem" instructivists outthere will say the DI's are damaging the kids. Maybe so, but there will be discipline. But again, this is a money and location issue. Where should we put these kids?

How about automatically making COLA payments from the state part of teacher salary and not forcing the teachers to negotiate away contract language for every freeking nickel of a pay raise ?

This seems a no brainer since the money is appropriated by the state. Why exactly is this negotiated away? What are the teaches getting in return? If these issues are not raised by your union negotiators, you need to get better negotiators.

How about spending the Federal and State money allocated for Special Ed. students for teacher aids to come into regular classroom where these children have been mainstreamed to provide the extra help and attention many of these RSP kids so desperately need ? And to truly place the RSP kids in their 'least restrictive environment', which is usually NOT a crowded classroom with 34 of their peers.

How about some classes for our high achieving students? (Currently, our k-8 district only offers, on a very limited basis, GATE Language Arts; no science, no social studies, no math)
Yes, Parents do complain about this, and are simply put off by Dr. KOP that it is a money issue and out of his hands. YET, he begs grant money to operate a "not-based-on-State Standards Math and Science Center and to hire his special friend to "consult" with him and attend conferences around the world with him. He seems to have the attitude of "Screw" the kids in his own district!

While such sentiments are great, why would these be a matter of negotiated contracts between teh school board and teachers. Dr. KOP sounds like a total buffon, but that is a matter for parents, not teachers.

Special Items
These two in particular need to be specially addressed.

How about fully paid health care insurance benefit, not paid in part by the teachers?

Forgive me everyone for my impertinence, but quit whining. Every private employer I know of, including the largest and wealthiest employers require their employee to pay a portion of their premium. The federal government requires workers to pay a share. Why should you get a taxpayer subsidized benefit that is available to almost no one else? I agree that teachers are paid poorly and that in many cases the pay raise is eaten up by the insurance premium increase. If that is the case, you need to negotiate either a higher pay raise or a lower premium increase. This is the one area where public sector unions and union members are, in my opinion, flat out wrong.

Of course, every teacher out there is liable to flame me for my viewpoint, but if and when I am negotiating contracts, you can bet that this will be a deal breaker for me.

How about teachers from the various school in our district just being able to sit down and talk about things with the members of the board ? Not to negotiate, just to communicate.

Two things here. First, why not insist upon it? I don't think the problem is on the board's side, but rather on your union's side. In short, they want to control communications between teachers and the school board so that they don't have teachers "going off the reservation" with the board.

Second, if you live in the district that employs you and most school boards are elected, you are constituents. You have a constitutionally protected right (in the First Amendment) to petition for the redress of grievances. If you can't get in as teachers, get in as private citizens who happen to be teachers. I for one would welcome teacher input and I would have no problem telling a union rep who gets their nose bent out of shape to sit down and shut up. Your rights as citizens are not circumscribed by your union. Exercise them, even if you live in a different school district than the one in which you work.

This has been a very long post and very informative. As always, comments are welcome.

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