Wealthy New Yorkers Declare: "We Are Willing and Able to Share in the Solution to Our States Budget Crisis"
How are YOU willing to actively support public education, Webster students, and the WTA leadership? For ideas, check out the WTA Political Action Spectrum document.
WTA President Steve Turiano excelled in outlining the events of the last weeks of the union/management relationship in Webster. Members posed insightful questions and provided additional opinions and anecdotes pertinent to the discussion. Were your concerns addressed satisfactorily at this point?
Last year the administration requested that all seven of the district bargaining units make a salary concession, and "give back" 1% of their scheduled raise. The WTA co-presidents consulted with members of the WTA Executive Board and the presidents of the other bargaining units, and refused to make the requested concession. No vote was held in Representative Council or among the general membership, nor could there have been -- the executive branch had not brought back any negotiated settlement to vote upon. When the dust finally settled on the state budget for the 2010-11 school year, the administration had federal jobs money in hand, and spent it on consultants, while several teachers that were laid off were not recalled to service.
This year the administration again made demands for unilateral concessions from the bargaining units, although only three of them were actually in position to give anything up, since the other 4 units are engaged in full contractual negotiations already. Other than that, the difference was that this year management decided to announce its negotiating position to the entire staff, a particular form of divide-and-conquer strategy that we have not seen in the past 18 years. It didn't work. The WTA leadership team had already been analyzing the issue for months, and had a very clear picture of why the request was unacceptable. At the February 7 meeting of the WTA Executive Board we discussed our strategy for dealing with the administration's impending request and decided that the only way we could negotiate any contractually sealed articles will be during the fall of 2011, when we enter full contractual negotiations. The reasons for this have already been described and shared in recent WTA publications and e-mails. The Executive Board members decided that the WTA president should instead attempt to negotiate an alternative way of saving the district a huge sum of money: a special one-time extension of the retirement incentive to all members old enough to retire under the TRS rules. We estimate that this incentive should save the district at least a million dollars in next year's budget.
The negotiations were successful, and the president brought back a Memorandum of Understanding for approval. Although we had met just the week before, we called an emergency meeting of the WTA Executive Board on February 14, which was held just prior to the regularly scheduled Representative Council meeting. At both meetings we read and discussed the MOU, and both bodies passed the MOU unanimously. During the President's Report in the session of Representative Council, we discussed the administration's request for salary concessions at length. Questions were asked and answered, and opinion ran strongly in favor of the strong stand taken by the Executive branch. No vote was taken in either chamber on the issue of concessions, because there was no MOU to vote upon. The same proper procedures that were followed in the past were followed this year. To make salary concessions at the same time that the administration absolutely refused to discuss contractual tweaks to help us deliver instruction more effectively were not the right answer; instead of a giant loss for all teachers, we instead negotiated a significant win for all parties, at a large net savings for the district. While it is our hope that we can now move forward and help the administration find other overlooked opportunities and new efficiencies in their proposed spending, management is clinging to a 20th century approach.
At the time of this writing, the district has 28 million dollars in its reserve funds. Management can draw from those reserves, it can cut from an expansive menu of voluntary expenses, it can reduce the number of administrators, and it can reduce the number of teachers. In short, management has a lot of options, and at its own discretion will decide whether or not to minimize the impact on students.
On a related note, on February 15 & 16, the US Secretary of Education led a national conference on "Advancing Student Achievement Through Labor-Management Collaboration." Webster (represented by the WTA president, superintendent, and president of the BOE) was one of 150 school districts from across the nation that participated in this initiative. A central theme was one that would appear counter-intuitive to many: a strong teachers' union is an essential partner in school progress. The twelve model districts, including a charter school network, have all embraced and applied this collaborative concept to enhance student achievement while finding new cost efficiencies.
True "Collaboration" does not mean that management makes demands and labor makes concessions. It means that neither side come to the table with pre-scripted positions, but rather that they work through an interest-based process of collaborative problem solving, using consistent logic. When decisions are made in this way, both parties have ownership and are fully invested. While many districts use this method on a part time basis, the districts modeled at the Denver conference displayed consistent application of the practice, and applied it to a full spectrum of educational issues, not a select few.
Another concept celebrated at the conference is that the primary purpose of unions is not to gain benefits for teachers, but to negotiate the conditions critical to student achievement from the teachers' perspective. While administrations can provide structure and collective data from the top-down, it's teachers who provide essential ground-truth from the bottom-up. Successful solutions require information to flow in both directions. Giving lip-service to "input" is not the same as genuine shared decision-making. The most underused resource in public education is classroom teachers' knowledge of what their students truly need -- and this does not mean chalk and pencils. Teachers are skilled professionals who work closely with their students on a daily basis, and this student-teacher interaction is the most critical element in student success.
No matter how unions may be painted in the press, the great financial struggle in education is not one of teachers demanding ever-increasing funding while management valiantly resists -- the real heart of the problem is that administrations so often spend great sums of money on the wrong things. Our history abounds with purchases and programs predestined to the trash bin, because teachers were excluded from the decision-making process. Teachers must be asked what they need, not told. From there, joint dialogue, and in the end, a decision. To most effectively support their students, teachers require administrative assistance, not bureaucratic barriers. Fully embracing the model of labor-management collaboration can help us to deliver a better education at a lower cost. This requires a new mindset -- collaboration cannot be dictated, it can only be developed in partnership. As we entered budgetary discussions this year, management attempted to continue business as usual -- they demanded concessions and expected us to make them. But it is only through standing up and saying "No" to unreasonable demands that we can get them to join us in a future of genuine, and unlimited collaboration.
At the administration's request, teachers submitted a wide variety of money saving suggestions for their consideration. But when the WTA gathered these suggestions, management originally refused to even listen to them, let alone consider them -- they only wanted to hear ideas that mirrored the concessions they had already demanded. We resisted their unilateral approach, in the hope that they might actually open up to true innovation and collaboration.
Instead, in recent days, management has chosen to violate the Taylor Law by attempting to negotiate directly with union members rather than the duly elected union leadership. Nothing could be a greater betrayal of the principles expounded at the Denver conference, and it gives us great insight into their stubborn mindset.
The WTA is not refusing to negotiate or collaborate. The WTA is refusing to make unilateral concessions of management's choosing. It is management that has drawn a line and refuses to discuss many issues that directly impact student achievement, daily schedules at all three levels as an obvious example. We attempted to get them to make tweaks to the high school schedule to allow teachers to better serve their students, but management rebuffed our requests out of hand, refusing to consider the issues anywhere else but in full contractual negotiations to be held next year. That was their decision, not ours. The WTA would like nothing more than for both sides to embrace the concept of collaboration that we saw modeled at the conference, but management clings to its 20th century vision of "managerial rights" to impose, rather than collaborate. When they are ready to work together, we will be ready, for we have been waiting for a long time.
the WTA Leadership
NOTE: This blog post was initially sent as an email by former WTA co-president, Maria Rigillo. It appears here in its entirety for your perusal. cedunne
To: Steve Turiano, Elected WTA Officers, Executive Board and Representative Council Members
I would appreciate this message being shared with all WTA members.
I have already made one request for a WTA General Membership meeting, and would once again like to respectfully request that a such a meeting be called for the purpose of discussing the District’s request for ideas to problem-solve the current state of the financial dilemma we face as a District, as well as to clarify some erroneous gossip that is circulating. All members deserve the right to hear and to react to suggestions and ideas that have been brought forth in light of recent developments and to have the opportunity to express their ideas and opinions, as well as to ask clarifying questions. This should be done as a whole membership and not with splintered individual meetings. Constitutionally, I understand that this needs to be brought to Executive Board for a vote and that no meeting is scheduled until the first full week in March, but as many of you know, emergency Executive Board and Rep Council meetings can be called, and have been in the past, as well as sending out a motion via e-mail and calling for a vote, which has also been done.
I have many concerns regarding some of the statements that have been made to our membership. While it is true that if no Collective Bargaining Agreement is approved by June 30, 2012, we will not receive a raise for the 2012-2013 school year, there is no guarantee that retroactive pay will be agreed to in the subsequent contract. Given the current state of financial insecurity nationwide, it is difficult to fathom that if we go without a contract for a number of years, that retroactive pay will be easily agreed to. I have made numerous suggestions that our WTA leadership collaborate with the District to reach an amicable solution as to how WTA members can help with the budget crisis with the possibility of negotiating a contract extension. This would most likely secure a salary increase as well as keep our health benefits from changing. Another suggestion would be to ask for the Superintendent’s days back that have been added to our current contract.
On page 70 of the Collective Bargaining Agreement between the Superintendent/District and WTA it states: “Upon request of either party for a meeting to open negotiations, a mutually acceptable meeting date and place shall be set no more than fifteen (15) days following such request. In any given school year, such request shall be made in writing on or before December 1.” The key language here is either party and December 1. Although the District did not officially request WTA to open negotiations to discuss a wage adjustment, discussions could have ensued to problem-solve the situation. When our WTA leadership asked for a change to the language regarding the retirement incentive after the December 1 deadline, both parties agreed to allowing the incentive to be granted to everyone who retires regardless of their eligibility. This motion was made at Executive Board, moved to Rep Council and the Memorandum of Understanding was passed. This is a perfect example of working for the good of our members by both parties.
I was teaching in Webster twenty years ago when the District asked for, and received, a nearly 3% give-back of our 8% salary increase that year in order to save school-nurse teachers. Yes, school-nurse teachers were let go the following year, but WTA is much smarter today than it was then. I believe that often times we need to look beyond ourselves and focus on colleagues who need our support. The adversarial relationship that once existed between the District and WTA has evolved into collaborative and collegial one, giving birth to a new way of progressing, working together and resolving issues in a positive way. Times are difficult and I believe that working as a collective team will put us in a better place, especially when we begin negotiations, and it will positively affect our standing with the District and with the community.
Every single person of the Webster staff should be very should be proud of the children we have helped “raise” as a community and for the progress that has been made in relationships across the District. It is critical that the Webster community begin to view us as supporters rather than as antagonists.
This is not a Webster issue. This crisis is a State and National problem that will continue to erode the very core and heart of what education, and we, as educators, stand for. This is not about any one person’s salary or benefits, it is about preserving the dignity and honor of an Association that has undergone the worst of times and that has risen above the differences and roadblocks encountered along the journey. It is not only what is best for us as union members, but what is truly best for our students and our colleagues.
I firmly believe that as dues-paying members and union supporters thatwe MUST be afforded the opportunity to meet as a collective group of WTA members in order to together hear the comments and opinions of our colleagues, and then we should vote on the issue. I will fully support what the majority decides, but it is imperative that we first be informed and asked for a vote, and then, and only then, be represented by a WTA voice that will truly represent the desire of the majority of its members.
The more I read and watch on various media this week about "union-busting" in order to "balance budgets," the more skeptical I become about the quality of our democracy and those we've elected to "represent" us. Don't get me wrong; I have spent a lot of my savings and have found stipends that have allowed me to travel, study & live in a great number of countries. I've always returned to the good old US for too many reasons to list here. When my state and federal representatives, though, try to convince the general public that all public employees need to make concessions (salary freezes, additional contributions to health care...), I don't have to scratch the surface much to find their true political motives: money and supporting Big Business' interests to churn out more money (check out the Rachel Maddow video I've linked from the homepage that illustrates this point). Granted, I make a good salary for my 25 years' of teaching experience combined with my extensive and varied professional development to continually improve my pedagogical skills and student-centered instruction as well as my German and Spanish language skills. It's not simply that I've punched the clock for those 25 years. I'm a far better teacher than I was when I entered the profession in 1985, and even than I was 5 years ago. I'm definitely not in the minority of teachers in the US Public Education System that fits this profile, either. But, I don't need to preach to the choir about this here, do I?! What I do wish to share is this: the right to collectively bargain teacher contracts (Taylor Law/1967) was a purposeful and well-fought right to improve the quality and stability of public education for all American children that when attacked should not be taken lightly. Perhaps it's having been aware of the "moonlighting" jobs my father, a 6th grade teacher at the TJ Connor Building (Wheatland-Chili) had to take on while he was our primary breadwinner ($5K didn't go far, even back in the mid/late 60s - although a friend of his entered the work force the same year dad did and worked a fork lift at Kodak for over $11K - with only having a high school diploma). Or, perhaps in 1977, hearing over dinner my mother, the #15 School Librarian, recount what really happens along the picket line when the RCSD teachers went on strike for 2 weeks - and were docked 4 weeks' pay for that act. Or perhaps it's from hearing incredible anecdotes of working conditions (buildings in need of repair, disproportionate teacher- student ratios, limited pupil services…) that currently exist in rural, urban, & suburban districts while attending the NYSUT conferences and Representative Assembly. Compound that by hearing at AFT conferences what public school teachers endure throughout "Right-to-Work" states: union-busting will not resolve our districts', states' or federal financial woes. But, it will drastically hobble continued and improved successes in public education. The education we provide our Webster students is very high quality – and our “consumers” have evaluated it accordingly. That is even more reason not to turn back the clock on improvements our collective bargaining agreements have made over the years to reach this level of service delivery to our students..
As an active member of the WTA since 1999 (when my 2nd daughter began school and 14 years into my teaching career), the idea that "THE UNION" is a separate entity from "THE TEACHERS" has been quite puzzling and at time perturbing to me. I embrace debate that will move our profession forward to better meet the needs of our students and place them on a level playing field with their Finnish, Japanese, and Chinese counterparts. But I completely refute the notion that "The UNION," [in this case the Webster Teachers Association,(WTA) Local #06-205, Affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and New York State United Teachers (NYSUT) as well as the AFL-CIO] serves public education little more than "protecting the bad teachers."
The Taylor Law, with its Triburough Amendment, combined with our Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA aka our Teachers' Contract) serve to protect us from capricious acts by politicians, management, and even at times, our colleagues. There is no "protecting the person" in any unsavory situation - these documents allow our union leadership to PROTECT THE PROCESS for any teacher - "good" or "bad."
I sincerely hope that in these difficult economic times that we can agree to disagree at times and don't turn to canabalize each other out of frustration. Additionally, we should recognize the quality if not the quantity of effort and time the WTA Leadership engages for us, "THE TEACHERS," so that we may have the luxury to focus our efforts on doing just that: TEACH.
Christine Dunne WTA Media PR & Webmaster