South St. Louis County News

St. Louis Call Newspapers

South St. Louis County News

St. Louis Call Newspapers

South St. Louis County News

St. Louis Call Newspapers

Board votes 4-2 to approve pact with MNEA

Two board members express concerns about giving up governance authority.

A bargaining agreement for the 2011-2012 school year between the Mehlville Board of Education and the Mehlville National Education Association was approved last week by the board.

The board voted 4-2 on June 28 to approve the agreement, which provides a framework for annual negotiations between the board and teachers. Board members Rich Franz and Mark Stoner were opposed.

Besides the agreement, the board voted 5-0 to approve the MNEA’s petition to conduct an election Oct. 3 among its 726 members to determine the sole and exclusive representative organization for the bargaining unit. Franz abstained.

The MNEA was the only organization to bring forward a petition. A mutually agreeable third party — the League of Women Voters — verified that the organization obtained the signatures of at least 30 percent of district teachers, per board policy.

The board also voted 4-1 to approve the ballot language for the MNEA election. Stoner was opposed and Franz abstained.

Board members in February unanimously approved a bargaining agreement with the MNEA for the 2010-2011 school year after many months of negotiations. The successor agreement is virtually identical to the previous pact, which expired June 30.

“Schools work best and students benefit when there is a spirit of cooperation between the board of education and the teachers,” board President Venki Palamand told the Call. “The recently approved bargaining agreement with the MNEA is a reflection of that spirit in the Mehlville School District. Much of the document’s content reflects what was already in our board policy. In keeping with standard practice, it was reviewed and approved by our attorneys.

“With an expiration date of June 30, 2012, the board in place at that time can decide if it wants to continue, modify the agreement or let it expire,” he added.

The agreement references more than two dozen board policies and procedures relating to association rights; pay and benefits; leave; employee rights; and working conditions.

Except in the case of an emergency, the agreement “shall constitute a binding obligation of both the district and the association” and “may be altered, changed, added to, deleted from or modified only through the voluntary, mutual consent of these parties in written and signed amendment …

“The board shall not unilaterally change the policies to which this document refers.”

Both Stoner and Franz said they opposed the bargaining agreement out of a concern that the board would be giving up some of its authority to govern the district.

“In regards to the contract, it’s not about opposing our educators,” Stoner said. “In fact, they are very good at what they do, and I’m going to say that they’ve been more than cooperative. They’ve been extremely cooperative.”

However, by approving the agreement, “I would say that we’re ceding part of our responsibility to a process, rather than board governance … In effect, as a board, as an elected official, those authorities are being usurped,” Stoner said.

Franz said, “Our certified employees do a great job. They deserve every consideration in terms of salary, benefits and pension.”

However, the board is not required by law to agree to collective bargaining, he said.

“When a school board such as the Mehlville school board agrees to enter into that type of agreement, I believe that what the board is doing is in effect abdicating part of the authority for the governance of the school district that’s been entrusted to them by the taxpayers. I was not elected by the taxpayers to share responsibility for governing the school district with the certified employees …,” Franz said.

He contended the board could have a relationship with district employees “without the existence of the labor union.”

“And I’m not arguing the merits of the union itself, whether or not they have the right to exist; those teachers have every right to join any organization they want,” Franz said. “But … the failure of past boards to accept their responsibility has gotten us to the point where we are today, where the certified employees expect to have a seat at the table in deciding workplace rules, and I don’t think that’s appropriate.”

Asked if he thought any amount of input from teachers was appropriate and if so, how the board could obtain it outside of a union, Franz said, “We have the ability as an employer through various means to ascertain the feelings and opinions of our employees. Through surveys — computerized, mailed, personal — through one-on-one interviews with our employees, through employees’ attendance at school-board meetings — they have every right to stand up and address the board. There are a number of different channels that are available to our employees, not only to seek out and obtain the ear of school board members but also for our administrators to seek out our employees and find out their opinion about things.

“I do not believe that the only voice our employees have is through the union.”In May, the board and district teachers endorsed a memorandum of understanding that summarizes the discussions between negotiating teams for the 2011-2012 school year.

Franz served on the board negotiating team along with Palamand and board member Tom Diehl, then-Superintendent Terry Noble and other district officials.

Representing the MNEA were chief negotiator Mike Ghormley, association President Karen Torretta and other district teachers.

Both parties agreed in the MOU to convert eight early release professional development days in the 2011-2012 school year to full days of student instruction. The 16 hours of professional development will become voluntary, and teachers will be paid $30 per hour if they participate.

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