Non-educators derail contract talks

10:11 am

They have not played nice in the sand box from the beginning. Early on they would cancel and delay negotiations regularly. About November, we were very close to a settlement and out of the blue, they switched negotiators, essentially starting the entire process over.

At one point Superintendent Carole Smith was participating in the negotiations. Evidently she was too earnest in getting a settlement. The next session, after a particularly productive session, Smith was not there, but she was ‘available’ if needed. The session after that, Smith was neither present nor available. We think they “threw her under a bus” or something. Maybe they should have had her park her car somewhere else.

I’m no negotiator myself, but it doesn’t take much to know that a good negotiator will try to get the other side to express intentions regarding the issue being discussed. When the district would finally articulate to the PAT their intentions and desired outcome of a given article being discussed, the PAT would then write up the understood outcome in contract lingo. The district would then say, ‘Oh that’s not what we meant’! And around they’d go again.

After one of the PAT’s rallies, the district ‘magically’ came up with a way to cut $11 million to avoid the 5 furlough days. Now, after the passage of 66 and 67, they deny having a spare $11 million. This begs the question – did they really need the furlough days they were asking for? Or, was it all a ploy to pressure teachers into making concessions on the contract in order to avoid the furlough days?

Where is the district’s increased expense forcing them to trim their budget, especially now that 66 & 67 have passed? It’s certainly not health care. Their health insurance expense for teachers is going up only 80 cents per teacher per month. Wow. I know people whose insurance is going up 25%! On a side note, The Trust, the district’s health care organization, does an incredible job, as this is an unheard of low increase. (The Trust is a board of both district personnel and PAT members managing the health care products they offer to PAT members).

District folks are not educators and do not understand what being a teacher means. They don’t ‘get’ how schools function and the role that teachers play. The PAT negotiators had to explain to them what “student contact time” is. The district wants a longer day for middle school teachers but were googly-eyed when it was explained to them that that would mean those teachers wouldn’t be able to go to staff meetings or attend after-school IEP meetings (two things held precious to administrators). If those teachers had to teach until 4:30 and then attend meetings, their work day would end at 6:30!

Currently, teachers have the first 15 minutes of their work day to get ready for the day – make copies, set up curricular materials for the day, etc. They also have the last 30 minutes of the day to call parents, see students, grade papers, etc. The district wants that time to be instructional time. It had to be explained to them that to require teachers to start their teaching day the minute their working day started and ended, they would not be available to students for questions or help on homework, contacting parents, or even entering the day’s attendance into the eSis database. Again, district officials were googly-eyed when this was explained to them.

This is just a sampling of how things have gone. We’re still trying to negotiate a contract that would expire this June. It seems clear these are people who are out to bust a union.

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filed under: Labor Relations

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24 Responses

  1. Comment from Whitebuffalo:

    I just heard that the first week of a strike would coincide with Spring Break. Discuss…

  2. Comment from S. Wilcox:

    I teach math. How does the district not understand the idea that if the school day is 7 1/2 hours long, and the teacher day is 7 1/2 hours long, there is no extra time? No time to plan lessons, grade, etc. They say they would not be extending our day, but people, DO THE MATH!!!! When would we be planning and grading? ON OUR OWN TIME!!!! DUHHHHH!!!

  3. Comment from Whitebuffalo:

    Hope I’m wrong.

    This could get real ugly.

    Hope I’m wrong but the disconnect in the district office from real teaching and learning is mammoth.

  4. Comment from Steve Rawley:

    I’m curious to know how much of this derailment can be laid at the feet of Eli Broad. When I talked to administrators last fall, they said there was no anti-union bias instilled in Broad’s training.

    Yet Broad makes no bones about wanting to seize power from teachers’ unions, and here we are in a stalemate which appears to be intended to force a teacher lockout or strike during a recession.

  5. Comment from Rita:

    Some may not be doing the math because they just don’t want to. Unions are there to be busted just because.

    But I suspect quite a few of the movers and shakers within the District and Board don’t do the math because they just don’t understand what teachers do. You teachers need to do the math for them.

    I’ll start: let’s take a high school junior English class of 30 kids. Notwithstanding the current obsession with multiple guess bubble tests, one of the things we want kids to be able to do by graduation is write coherently at some length. (Yes, paragraphs, not just bullet points.) Learning to write well takes a lot of practice, preferably on a regular basis with feedback from the teacher.

    Let’s say the assignment is a three page essay (pretty short for a junior, but let’s lowball it for the sake of the argument). To be really useful to a student, the teacher should be able to provide feedback on the structure, coherence, and style of the piece. And the feedback needs to be usable by the student, meaning that it has to be both detailed and considerate. It takes time to craft those comments, but let’s (seriously) lowball it again to say that the teacher takes 5 min. per paper. 5 min. x 30 papers = 150 min = 2.5 HOURS. That’s one assignment for one class. S/he’s probably got 5 more classes with equally onerous grading requirements. Week after week after week.

    So, if all day every day is taken up with student contact time, when exactly are teachers supposed to do this kind of work? It’s going to have to be after hours, at home. Uncompensated, uncounted, unappreciated, and apparently unvalued by the negotiators.

    Yeah, I know, most professionals in the US work more than 40 hours/week. But they’re usually well compensated for it, either in money or respect/status or both. It appears that the District is currently willing to give neither to the teachers.

    Or do they think that students don’t need this kind of real feedback from teachers? Maybe the test scores are feedback enough?

  6. Comment from Whitebuffalo:

    I said it on the other thread but I’ll say it again: teachers regularly take sick days to stay home and grade papers because of the reasons Rita laid out above. There simply aren’t enough hours in the day to do all this in the first place, what happens when another class of 30+ is heaped on top?

  7. Comment from Diane Dean:

    I teach Kindergarten. My paid school day starts at 7:45am and ends at 3:15pm. I get half an hour to choke down my lunch and use the restroom. The student day starts at 8:00am and ends at 2:15pm. I usually still have students with me until at least 2:30pm as some parents pick up their students late. That gives me 45 minutes to plan and organize. (Some of that time is also spent making parent contacts, conferring with other teachers, and yes using the restroom.) Most days I arrive at 7:15am and don’t leave until about 5:00pm. So I am already working for free. If I didn’t put in the time, I would not be able to present the assessment data that the school district wants to see; that is, meeting or exceeding Benchmarks. So, if they want me to work the hours they impose, I guess they will just have to take the results they do not want to see. My kindergartners are exhausted by about 1:00pm so how would extending their day be helpful to their learning? It is obvious that our district administrators have no idea what I do each day.

  8. Comment from Miss Merry Sunshine:

    Ya, Diane, ever eat out with a teacher? My physician said to stop wolfing down my food, fat chance. Many of us have WORKING LUNCH HOURS, no wonder I’ve had acid reflux for years, and a bladder shot to hell not from birthing babies and old age, but from having to freakin’ pee and not being able to!!!!

  9. Comment from Zarwen:

    I read somewhere that elementary teachers and migrant workers have the highest rates of bladder infections. Amazing that jobs with such disparate qualifications have such similar working conditions!

  10. Comment from S. Wilcox:

    I just went to a union organizing meeting today. It sounds like parents are finally coming around to support teachers in greater numbers. That email Trudy Sargent sent out last week got a lot of parents mad. They could see right through it. I’m hoping there is a light at the end of this very dark, extremely long, tunnel.

  11. Comment from Carrie Adams:

    Diane Dean, how are kindergartners assessed for benchmarks?

  12. Comment from Zarwen:

    Yeah, I think Trudy has done more to galvanize parents with a single email than anything the PAT has done for the past two years! Maybe PAT should send her flowers, LOL!

  13. Comment from Bonnie Robb:

    Carrie, k-2 kids in this district have a “literacy profile” that must be completed three times a year, entered into a spreadsheet and turned into the building principal. A combination of literacy “skills” and Developmental Reading Assessment (DRA) levels are used to determine benchmark. We also have a district writing scoring guide for k-2. The frustration for the literacy assessment for me has always been the time factor. These assessments are ONE-ON-ONE and can take from 15-40 minutes. We are not given release time for the assessments, so have to do them during the student day, with 20-25 other 5-7 year old students that are expected to be independent and quiet while we complete them. (insert sarcasm here) We all manage it, but it is an imperfect situation.
    Another example of district leadership having no idea of what is expected from teachers on a daily basis.
    This is definitely NOT about the money.

  14. Comment from Zarwen:

    My son’s teacher in grades 1-2 sometimes asked me to help her do these. Since I am a former teacher, I was glad to help. But the fact remains that EVERY primary teacher needs help with this. I would really like for Carole Smith, Sarah Allan and some of the other bigwigs to go into a primary classroom and conduct these assessments WITHOUT any help. I think they would get a REAL education then!

  15. Comment from Carrie Adams:

    Bonnie, thanks for the information. I know you work in a Title I school. Did you know that Title I carried over almost $3 million from 08/09? Schools didn’t need it.

    They probably won’t need it this year either because the Title I budget grew significantly with the addition of the ARRA funds. The pot is at $36 million now.

  16. Comment from Steve Buel:

    These types of assessments are rediculous. Most teachers know darn well what each kid can do and should be left free to do assessements where they feel it is necessary. Testing EVERY kid in this manner is absurd. Another great example of the one-size fits all mentality of the school reform movement.

  17. Comment from Bonnie Robb:

    Steve, those tests also reflect “accountability”. Everyone has to “prove” that they are doing their job to the outside world.

    This is why the contract stuff is frustrating to me. Every year we are asked to do more with no more time. Another workload issue came up because of Nike and other business leaders who think they know more about education than teachers.

    Until 3 or 4 years ago, k-5 teachers who were lucky enough to still have music, PE, or library for their students were able to use that time to make a copy, write a plan, call a parent, or just pee!

    This WAS in addition to our pitiful 40 minute after school planning, which is never enough and why we all have to stay late. But the time during music or PE certainly helped us get things done.

    Then Carol Smith announced that the district was going to give kids in more schools “enrichments”, but not to worry, because the teacher would be given something to do when their classes were away. (implying that we were NOT doing something during that time).
    After that announcement, that time was given over to PLC’s (professional learning communities) and “Imbedded Professional Development”, both of which amount to sitting around with grade level teams talking about student work and learning.
    Sounds good in theory right? Except, most of us don’t have that much to talk about, are doing PD every week during “staff meeting”, and have more work than ever making every new district “thing” work.
    On a practical level, we lost almost 2 hours a week of planning, but now have more kids, more tests and more district initiatives we have to make work.
    This is what the contract is about. Giving us time to do the job you ask of us. Teachers are tired. We want to do our best by these wonderful students, but are not given the time or support to do so.

  18. Comment from Steve Buel:

    Bonnie, you are so right on! The reform crazy public and administration doesn’t seem to understand that learning takes place in the classroom and teacher’s time should be directed toward planning and improving their classroom. And in the end individulal teachers are the best judge of what this entails. The adminsitration’s job should be to support what the teacher is trying to do and make sure the building itself is working so as not to distract from learning. The stupid high stakes testing mixed in with the reform movement (basically cover my administrative ass programs)which has also been adopted by public officials to have them act like they know what is going on and are doing something
    about poor kids education is so misdirected it is laughable. Though if you are doing all the crap and jumping through the hoops it ceases to be funny.

    Real PLC’s are initiated from the workers (in this case teachers) and are controlled by them. What school districts have done is co-opt this from business and used it to advance the school reform agenda. Totally against what real PLC’s are. Heck, who doesn’t want to spend time chatting about their class with fellow teachers and, if the other teachers are good, planning some units together. But this is not the program. Too bad PPS’s administration and school board don’t get the destruction their reforms are causing.

  19. Comment from S.Wilcox:

    Read the column in today’s O. It talks about this issue (although from the perspective from the district). Trudy Sargent spins it so the district is only asking for what is “logical.” Too bad the paper didn’t do the right thing, and get BOTH sides. What a concept.

  20. Comment from Carrie Adams:

    I’ve been counting the days until my last child graduates from PPS. Can anyone tell me with certainty what the impact of a teacher strike might be on seniors graduating this year?

    Whoa. That was timing. I just received an email that PPS and PAT have reached a tentative agreement.

  21. Comment from Miss Merry Sunshine:

    I’ve looked everywhere online for something about the tentative agreement–please post as soon as you hear something!

  22. Comment from Miss Merry Sunshine:

    Tentative agreement, from pps email:

    Portland Association of Teacher Members,

    Portland Public Schools and the Portland Association of Teachers have reached a tentative agreement on a new three-year contract, subject to ratification by the parties. Details of the tentative agreement will remain confidential until the terms are ratified by the parties.

    Your bargaining organizer at your site will have more information soon.

    Thank you for all of your time and committment.
    PAT President Rebecca Levison & PAT Vice President Gwen Sullivan

  23. Comment from Carrie Adams:

    This is the entire content of the email from PPS:

    Rick Liebman, Lead Negotiator for PPS, 503-276-2148

    Portland Public Schools reaches tentative agreement with Portland Association of Teachers

    Portland, Ore., Feb. 13, 2010: Portland Public Schools and the Portland Association of Teachers have reached a tentative agreement on a new three-year contract, subject to ratification by the parties. Details of the tentative agreement will remain confidential until the terms are ratified by the parties.”

  24. Comment from Diane Dean:

    I am the bargaining rep at my school and will be attending a special meeting tomorrow afternoon. I will then find out about the details of the tentative agreement with the district. On Tuesday all PAT members will meet at their schools and the organizers will explain the contract and there will be a closed ballot taken at the end of the meeting. I think the school board wants us to think they are so giving and kind because they canceled our staff meeting this week and are allowing us to use that time for our meeting on Tuesday. More reason to support the notion that the school board is living in some alternative universe.