Lindbergh teachers approve three-year pact with school board

By EVAN YOUNG

One of the longest negotiation processes in the history of Lindbergh Schools could wrap early next week.

The school district’s administration is expected to recommend the Board of Education ratify a three-year agreement with the Lindbergh National Education Association during the board’s regular meeting Tuesday.

Lindbergh teachers endorsed the tentative agreement by a 6-to-1 margin Oct. 29, according to a school district news release. If it’s ratified by the board next week, the contract would be effective the following day — Nov. 11 — through June 30, 2013.

“This agreement is a sign of the efforts on both the part of the Board of Education with the administration team, and the LNEA, to reach consensus and do what is in the best interests of our students,” Beth Siegfried and Diane O’Leary, LNEA co-presidents, said in a statement Friday. “The ratification of the Lindbergh teachers’ agreement is a positive step for the future of Lindbergh Schools.”

When the board and LNEA began hashing out a master contract 10 months ago, their relationship had been relatively unblemished for more than 40 years. But talks halted abruptly in late March when 90 percent of Lindbergh teachers voted to reject the district’s proposed agreement. That “final offer” included an increased financial package over previous proposals, but the LNEA contended the board was refusing to negotiate terms and conditions of employment.

Teachers’ salaries weren’t the primary issue, LNEA officials said. Rather, they wanted the board to expand the scope of negotiations to include topics that up until then were considered matters of district policy, governed solely by the board.

The current, 2009-2010 Teacher Handbook has one section, but prior versions had four. Traditionally, only the first section of the older handbook — relating to salaries and benefits — had been included in binding contract agreements between the board and the LNEA. The binding language appears as the first article in the handbook.

But LNEA representatives wanted the board to broaden negotiations to include a variety of topics within the other three sections of the old handbook: length of the school day and policies for meeting outside of the school day; parent-teacher conference structure; teaching schedules and limits on diversion of critical instructional plan time; a grievance and resolution procedure; a fair and beneficial teacher-evaluation process; and input into developing the process for placement and transfer of teachers to different positions in future redistricting.

District officials said they would be willing to “discuss” those items with the LNEA but would not “negotiate” them as part of the binding agreement and cause the school board to lose its ability to effectively govern the district.

In April, members of the Missouri NEA Representative Assembly voted unanimously to adopt a resolution in support of the LNEA. The resolution condemned the Lindbergh school board for threatening to take “unilateral and unlawful action” during the negotiation process, and for “violating the constitutional rights of its employees.”

Both the Lindbergh NEA and Missouri NEA cited a 2007 state Supreme Court ruling that states teachers and other public employees have a constitutional right to engage in collective bargaining with their government employers. While governmental entities aren’t bound to reach work agreements with labor unions, once they do, they cannot simply back out of the contracts, according to the ruling.

The previous three-year agreement between the district and the LNEA expired on June 30 with no new contract completed. But the groups had four meetings to discuss and revise the Teacher Handbook for 2009-2010, which the school board subsequently approved.

Then, shortly after the school year began in August, the teams returned to the negotiating table. Their first task was to figure out what the Supreme Court’s 2007 ruling really meant, said Rick Francis, assistant superintendent for personnel services.

“That seemed to be kind of a foundation,” Francis told the Call Friday. “We went back and said: ‘What does this Supreme Court ruling really say?’ And once we kind of established the fact that here’s what it says, then it became kind of clear to both teams that this was the way we needed to negotiate. I think that was the turning point of changing negotiations.”

The new three-year agreement that will go before the school board next week reflects that Supreme Court ruling, stating in part: “The Board of Education-Administration-Lindbergh National Education Association will meet and discuss with teacher representatives. The board is not required to agree to any proposed terms or conditions.”

No binding language exists in the proposed agreement for most of the aforementioned items from the previous handbook’s second, third and fourth sections, which the LNEA initially wanted the board to negotiate. In addition, the teachers’ salary schedule, insurance and tuition reimbursement will be negotiated annually due to the fluid state of the district’s finances, Francis said.

“The things that still needed to be maintained, the governance by the Board of Education, are those things which have a price tag to them,” he said. “And certainly given the school district’s deficit spending, there were certain items that we could not allow to be put in binding contract language because the board needs the flexibility to decide how the money benefits kids.

“So big-ticket items like the teachers’ salary schedule, insurance and tuition reimbursement will be negotiated annually beginning in January 2010. And the teachers and the administration and the Board of Education all agree that those areas are ones that are big dollar items, and therefore given our financial situation we must look at those annually.”

Francis stressed the revisions to the Teach-er Handbook were policy, unlike the agreement before the board, which is binding.

But he added the new contract “will serve the teachers as well as the students and the Lindbergh community well.”

The assistant superintendent noted that Lindbergh Schools recently was “Accredited with Distinction” by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education for the ninth consecutive year.

“That tells me that even though we were discussing contract language, we did not take our eye off the ball,” Francis said. “We were still focused on student learning, be-cause our scores will testify to that. I think that’s a testament to the ongoing dedication of both our teachers and administration.”

And when the district and the LNEA return to the negotiating table in the future, “ground rules” will be in place to help the parties minimize conflicts, Francis said.

“We spent some time laying a foundation not only for this negotiation but for future negotiations — what happens if you reach an impasse, ground rules for negotiations,” he said. “That took some time. I know we took two or three meetings to establish the Lindbergh process of negotiations with the teachers. So I think that was time well-spent, that not only do we have an agreement but we have a foundation for future negotiations’ success.”