Obama pleased with progress, but not satisfied

President Barack Obama makes a point during last week’s town-hall-style meeting at Fox Senior High School.

President Barack Obama makes a point during last week’s town-hall-style meeting at Fox Senior High School.

By BURKE WASSON

With negotiations for the coming school year deadlocked between the Lindbergh Board of Education and the Lind-bergh National Education Association, the teachers’ union last week spelled out its contract desires.

LNEA leaders told those in attendance at an April 29 public meeting that they are willing to compromise with the board on changes they would like to see to the district’s Teacher Handbook. They also encouraged residents to speak out at the Tuesday, May 12, Board of Education meeting.

The LNEA has wanted the administration and board to ex-pand the scope of negotiations to include all four sections of the handbook.

While the administration has said that only the first section relating to salaries and benefits has been included in binding contracts, LNEA members last week said that un-til this year they had been under the impression that all four sections always had been included.

LNEA members said they would like to negotiate the following items from Sections 2, 3 and 4 into binding 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.

“We’ve taken a whole lot of things out of where we started,” said Diane O’Leary, LNEA co-president. “… We thought we were just going to go right in and we were going to put it all together like we have before, and there would be our agreement. And so we were surprised when they said: No, we’re not putting those into the agreement. So we started pulling out here and pulling out there. And we got down to what we feel is essential.”

The Missouri Supreme Court ruled in 2007 that teachers and other public employees have a constitutional right to engage in collective bargaining with their government em-ployers. While governmental entities aren’t bound to reach work agreements with labor unions, once they do, they cannot simply back out of the contracts, the Supreme Court ruling stated.

In addition, members of the Missouri NEA Representa-tive Assembly voted unanimously April 19 to adopt a resolution in support of the LNEA. The resolution cites the 2007 state Supreme Court decision and notes that the LNEA “since 1967 has been recognized by the Board of Education of the Lindbergh School District as the exclusive bargaining representative of the professional teaching staff for the purpose of negotiating and reaching agreement on matters related to salaries, hours, benefits, working conditions and other matters of educational concern.”

But Lindbergh Superintendent Jim Simpson has said that claims in the MNEA resolution that the school board has acted unlawfully in negotiations with district teachers are “totally false.”

Lindbergh Board of Education President Ken Fey said after last week’s public LNEA meeting at the Tesson Ferry Branch County Library that while teachers say that binding language always can be renegotiated, he and the rest of the board do not want to “tie the hands of future boards.”

“It is very nice to say once you have something that is bound, you can always come back and unbind it,” Fey said. “But here is the way the board sees it: Once something is bound, it will never be unbound. It will always be there forever. And as we have been told by teachers, boards come and go. Well, since boards come and go, this board feels like it will not tie the hands of future boards by negotiating binding contract language that we know will never be rescinded in other negotiations in years to come.”

Lindbergh High School math teacher and LNEA member Dan Dorsey said teachers are not trying to run the district, but rather work to establish policies that would be beneficial to pupils, teachers and the board.

“Number one, we’re not looking to run the district,” Dorsey said. “I’m not interested in running the district. I’m interested in being a math teacher and a coach. I completely respect the board and board members who give their time …

“Number two, I feel like our wants are really quite basic. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to have binding language about the way teachers will be evaluated. That one thing, for me, really hits home. I have kids who are in the district. I would rather not have a good teacher that they encounter be subject to the will and basically to the whim of a particular administrator, perhaps a particular board member. I’ve had board members’ kids and fortunately they’ve all been pretty good kids that I’ve got to work with. But if I were to give a grade that a particular board member might not like, I don’t want to be subject to the scrutiny or the wrong type of scrutiny. I think there should be a process in place for how I’m evaluated and that all teachers should be evaluated by.”

“The thing about evaluation is it’s not just to protect the good teachers,” LNEA negotiating team member Jen Swift said. “It’s to improve the teachers who need improvement … There are processes that will help those teachers improve. And if they are not improving, there are processes in which to remove those teachers from the positions in which they are not doing their job.”

LNEA members also spoke openly last week about feelings of intimidation that they have felt from the administration. An LNEA handout states, “… Current labor discussions have resulted in teachers being subjected to in-timidation by administration” — something Fey denies.

“I heard this word ‘intimidation’ and it was thrown around a lot,” Fey said. “And that really did bother me. It may be perceptions by the teachers. And I’m very, very sorry that they have that perception. I don’t believe anybody board-wise or administration-wise has been heavy handed or has been intimidating in any way.

“Now, we do have the business of running this school district. And when situations arise, we must ask questions and we must find out answers. Now, to ask a question and to find out an answer, that is fine and well. I do not believe it is intimidating.”

Teachers also reported feelings of confusion over this year’s negotiation process, saying they were unaware that only Section 1 of the handbook was binding.

“We’re not sure when (Sections) 2, 3 and 4 stopped counting,” Swift said. “That’s the point of our side. We never knew it never counted. So, maybe it didn’t. But in our mind, it did. And since we now know that today, all of a sudden all that work that we’ve done for 40 years is now down to this little section and that’s all that counts. I feel like a fool in some aspects. Maybe it never counted. But we never knew that.

“And now that we know that it’s being made such a big deal makes me nervous. Are you going to tell me what you’re going to change? Why can’t it be in the agreement? And all of that anxiety is building and it makes us nervous. We’re nervous. I’ve never felt like that in a position in my job. I’m nervous. And most teachers are.”

Fey also is perplexed that negotiations have changed after 40 years, but believes the board is not negotiating any differently from before.

“The way we have been doing things has been working beautifully for the last 40 years,” Fey said. “So what has happened this year that has changed it? Now, my perspective is it’s the MNEA and the NEA. And I guess they just feel that they need to push this point through and to keep pushing on this binding language. But I would think that if something is working very well for the last 40 years, why would it not work for the next 40 years? Not that I’m confused, I’m just a little bewildered.”

“Unions are very, very necessary. But at Lindbergh, we have not done anything in our history. We have not laid off teachers. We have not done anything harsh. We have not cut the salary schedule down to anything. We have never froze wages. There hasn’t been one event that I can think of in my six years that would say: ‘Be scared and be distrustful of the board or the administration.’ So that’s why I’m kind of baffled.”