LNEA’s actions imperil district’s ability to pass tax increase, board says

By MIKE ANTHONY

Recent actions of the Lindbergh National Education Association “may have jeopardized the district’s ability to pass a tax levy to increase teachers’ salaries in the future,” according to the Lindbergh Board of Education.

With negotiations deadlocked between the LNEA and the Board of Education over a master contract for the coming school year, school board members outlined their position with a 26-page Power-Point presentation last week.

Negotiations over a master contract reached an impasse after 90 percent of LNEA members voted March 25 to reject the district’s “final offer” regarding salaries and working conditions for the 2009-2010 school year.

While that offer included an increased financial package over previous ones, it was rejected because the board refuses to negotiate terms and conditions of employment, according to the LNEA.

Though negotiations are at a standstill, state statute requires the district to furnish contracts to individual teachers by May 15. To meet that deadline, the board voted April 25 to adopt a teacher salary schedule for the 2009-2010 school year that provides a total compensation package increase of roughly 3.28 percent. The total compensation package approved by the board for the coming school year is identical to the board’s “final offer” that was rejected by LNEA members.

The board last week voted to approve a revised salary schedule that adjusts four steps to allow for recognition of attaining advanced degrees and additional university class completion.

The LNEA originally wanted the administration and board to expand the scope of negotiations to include all four sections of the district’s Teacher Handbook. In the past, only the first section relating to salaries and benefits has been included in binding contracts between the board and the LNEA.

LNEA members now say they would like to negotiate the following items from Sec-ions 2, 3 and 4 into binding contract language: length of 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.

The board’s PowerPoint presentation at the May 12 meeting that drew roughly 225 people was made after a period for public comment during which 11 people spoke.

Those 11 people included two parents, one resident, one student, four district teachers, a district librarian and two teachers employed in other school districts who have children in Lindbergh schools.

Lindbergh High School science teacher Joan Hereford said, “… I just sent a letter to you, the board, in order to share my perspective and I just wanted to state publicly that my expectation are as a teacher is for the NEA to represent me concerning my conditions of employment. Please do not consider those representatives to be a vocal minority, but rather that they are the voice of the majority of teachers at Lindbergh High School …”

Brenda Wright, a Lindbergh parent and a teacher in the Webster Groves School District, said she found it “curious” the negotiating committee representing the administration and school board “ceases to negotiate.”

“… We ask the teachers why? What has happened? What has changed? Why? No answer. They have no answer. We have no answer as a community. So, we’re in the dark and they’re not asking for much,” she said. “They’re not asking anything that binds your hands — one-year contract …

“Two parties go into a contract. Two parties can agree to open a contract at any time. There’s no way this is binding anyone’s hands. So why? Again, it’s just very curious to all of us. Makes us very suspect. I understand why the teachers are suspect. I as a citizen am very suspect as to why? …”

Lindbergh High School junior Daniel Ploesser said, “… I do know that the board would never try and hurt their students. I also know the teachers would never try and hurt their students. However, I will say that with the very few weeks left in school and the past few weeks, I have noticed a significant change in the teachers’ attitudes and the administration’s attitudes. And when the students talk about what’s going on and when they need help and they say: Well, I’m afraid to talk to my teacher right now. That’s a problem.

“I know personally myself, I’ve dealt with some teachers who their attitudes are changing in class. They’re becoming very short tempered or they just feel the need that they can’t treat us the same way because of how nervous they are or things like that. And the only thing that I ask you guys to do is to please solve this, both teachers, parents and the board because I would like to get back to the school that I love and that I know everyone in this school cares about the students and the youth and I know that you guys want what’s best. I know you guys want what’s best and for me to have felt the need to come up and tell you that it is affecting us, I see that as a line that has gone too far and that it needs to be solved …”

Lisa Struckhoff, a librarian at Sperreng Middle School, read the following statement to the board: “The teachers’ negotiating team representing Lindbergh teachers requests that the Lindbergh Board of Edu-cation negotiating team return to the bargaining table, representing good faith on both sides, in hopes that we can participate and possibly come to consensus on areas of mutual concern in the agreement. The intent of these meetings would be to come to agreement on some areas of mutual concern and that when we reach consensus, those items will become part of the agreement.

“Despite the fact that 90 percent of teachers surveyed chose to work to contract in some form or another, the LNEA Executive Board hopes to deter this action by returning to the negotiating table to discuss Section 1 of the handbook. We look forward to hearing from you. Thank you.”

Board President Ken Fey said, “I have heard a lot this evening and one thing I have heard is that we don’t know why we haven’t heard from the board … Why isn’t the board talking? Well, this evening the board is going to talk. We’re not only going to talk. We’re also going to show some slides … As you can read, this first slide says” ‘The Facts from the Lindbergh Board of Education.’ And I think I’ve already kind of put to the point that the community, the teachers, the NEA, the LNEA would like to hear something from us and tonight they will. The second point I would just like to make is this board is very unified. This board is together and what you will hear from one board member, you will hear from all of us. So, if you would like to call us separately and try to divide us, that is fine, but we are unified …”

To demonstrate that unity, board members took turns reading from the presentation, which noted that Section 1 of the Teacher Handbook first became “legally binding” in 2003 as a result of the district’s agreement with the LNEA. While all sections of the handbook have been discussed in the past, “… There was always a clear understanding that these discussions were not binding. Past members of the LNEA negotiating teams have confirmed this understanding,” the presentation states.

As for the agreement between the LNEA and the Board of Education that was ap-proved in 2006 and expires at the end of the current school year, the presentation noted, “All participants of this agreement attested to the fact that only Section 1 was binding.”

As proof, the following paragraph was cited: “Section 1 of the Lindbergh Teacher Notebook records terms of the Lindbergh Board of Education-Lindbergh NEA agree-ment as revised by representatives of the Lindbergh Board of Education and the Lindbergh National Education Association in March 2006 … This agreement was signed by all LNEA team representatives, including Diane O’Leary, Mike Green-stein, Karen Beckman, David Blackwood and Jane Jeep.”

The presentation stated that the board:

• “Has simply said no thank you to LNEA’s demands to control working conditions in the Lindbergh School District.”

• “The LNEA has sought to remove the BOE’s governance authority, caused district unrest, tarnished the district’s image locally and on the state level.”

• “The LNEA by their actions may have jeopardized the district’s ability to pass a tax levy to increase teachers’ salaries in the future.”

• “Teachers’ protests have affected students by causing uncertainty and anxiety in their minds.”

Board members also outlined their concerns with binding contract language in the presentation:

• “It limits an elected BOE’s ability to make changes as needed.”

• “It leads to operating the district based on seniority rather than merit.”

• “It limits a principal’s ability to maintain highest levels of quality education in his/her building.”

• “It rewards some teachers at the expense of others.”

• “It limits teachers’, parents’ and patrons’ ability to be involved in the change process.”

• “It is financially more expensive and runs contrary to our tradition of fiscal stewardship.”

The board’s specific concerns with the binding language sought by the LNEA include:

• “Locks in the length of the school day.”

• “Limits meetings outside of the school day.”

• “Freezes teaching schedules.”

• “Restricts flexibility to change curriculum.”

• “Confines teacher evaluations.”

• “Limits ability to reduce expenditures — RIF (reduction in force).”

• “Uses seniority to decide redistricting.”

“Locks, limits, restrictions (and) freezes are not effective methods of governing a great school district and promoting student learning,” the presentation states.