by Max Brantley
The other day, a member of the Walton U. School of Teacher Union Busting in Fayetteville wrote an op-ed in the Democrat-Gazette about the density of the working agreement between the Little Rock School Board and the Classroom Teachers Association. Fault was found, needless to say. Some points might have even been well taken, however.
The piece prompted responses from School Board members and the president of the CTA, which I am able to share with you. (I should have made clear originally that these comments were not sent to me directly by those quoted below. I was forwarded the e-mailed remarks by another recipient.)
FIRST, BOARD MEMBER JODY CARREIRO
I almost missed this in yesterday's Dem-Gaz in the Perspectives section. I thought I would pass it along. I am not suggesting by doing this that I agree or disagree with anything written here. But, it does again point out what I said last week, which is, everybody in the state is watching everything we do. We need to continue to be vigilant in our work.
As always, I do have other thoughts and comments about this, but I do want to respect the work being done in the collective bargaining process and do not feel that it is time to make those comments in a public manner.
BOARD MEMBER MICHEAL DAUGHERTY
I do understand what is being said but it is in tune with what we have said each time the contract has been brought to us. “It’s too long!” It is my understanding that it started as a small document but grew over time because one side or the other found an “I gotcha” somewhere in the contract and exploited it. Unfortunately, in order to eliminate the “I gotchas” the defending side wrote additional language into the new contract to eliminate or clarify what was being presented. Isn’t that the usual remedy when two sides don’t trust one another?
Additionally, if and when the teachers of this district start to feel secure in their work, that they are respected and appreciated, and they are no longer used as the proverbial whipping post for everyone who fails to be a good student, parent, or administrator, then we and they will not feel the need for a union or a lengthy contract. Please understand and let me be clear that this is in no way directed to the authors of the article you included but I would like you to name one profession where the employee is not allowed the benefit of sick leave or vacation time he/she has accumulated from the President of the United States to the prison guard and beyond.
Question: Does the country doesn’t stop running and are all the prisoners allowed to escape when either of these calls in sick.
Answer: Of course not! A willing and capable replacement is usually one phone call away and the world continues to turn.
In the past, I have been told by one or two of my fellow board members that we are not an employment agency, as we discussed layoffs and transfers. That I understood. But we are an agency that employs and we have the responsibility to ensure the people we hire are treated fairly and with dignity and respect. We have an obligation to pay them a fair and livable wage, to ensure their safety and health, and to advocate for them while they do the job we have hired them to do. We hold them accountable and penalize them for errors in judgment and ineffectiveness. We require them to be professionals and certified in every aspect of their respective professions. We make them responsible for every federal, state, and local mandate that comes down the pike. But we ultimately depend on them for the continued existence and success of this school district.
All in all, the LRSD is capable of so much more and I think we all know that. It is a good institution because staff is able to balance the budget while getting the job done. However, I would like to see it become a great institution by continuing to do all these things while supporting the people we hire that get the job done.
CTA PRESIDENT CATHY KOEHLER
Funny when Baker asked yesterday if I had read the piece, I said no - I knew it wouldn't be positive. I thought I'd share a few of thoughts with you regarding the piece and current situation. I ask three things. Forgive any punctuation, spelling, or grammar errors. I'm rushed and probably forgetting all the rules the good nuns and Dr. Gail Teal Potter taught me. Please don't share this with anyone other than the LRSD School Board membership and Dr. Watson. I would be heart sick to see it appear on any blog or in the press. If you have specific questions about the article, email and ask me. I am leaving tomorrow for San Diego for two weeks, but I will respond as quickly as possible.
1. The contract is not the teacher's contract, it is a negotiated agreement that both sides have agreed to over the past 40 or so years.
2. The current negotiations, according to team members who have participated in the past on both sides, are the smoothest ever and very collegial focusing on changes that impact instruction and students.
3. So that negotiations can work effectively no one, besides team members, is supposed to be privy to what is going on. The person who wrote the article does not know what either team proposed or what was accepted. Since it has been Tentatively Agreed to, I will share with you that my team suggested removing the typewriter and other outdated pieces and replaced it with a computer in each staff lounge. The district team did not bat an eye in agreeing to this.
4. The length of the contract must be agreed to by both parties. Most past contracts have been for a one year duration. The agreement to a three year contract was to cut back on time spent negotiating and focus on students. There is a Memorandum of Understanding provision that has allowed both parties to deal with circumstances as they have arisen.
5. I won't go into all the inaccuracies in the rest of the piece. To do so would be unproductive. We do not protect people, good or bad, we protect the process. The piece that is too often missing for me, is that the priority issue for administrators should be ensuring quality instruction. Surely too much time can't be spent in classrooms to make sure this is taking place. If I thought the paper would print the truth and this would not become a tit for tat situation, I would respond to it, but I learned long ago that it is useless. People who want to believe the worst will.
6. This author is out of touch with our current reality. If they had been paying attention, they would know that during the past two years administration and LRCTA have not been fighting. We have chosen not to help continue the public mistrust of the our district and sell papers to boot. We recognized that the entire ship would go down if we didn't change course. Have I taken heat from some of the membership for not being as aggressive with administration, yes; but I gladly do so because at the end of the day we all care about the same thing - students.
7. Change is hard for some people. It's easier to stick with what you know. In the case of the paper and U of A Department of Education Reform, it will always be easier to attack the union because it will get published. Where is the articles about the National Education Association President meeting monthly with Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. I will be in a meeting with Secretary Duncan next week. He is attending the NEA Representative Assembly to have a town hall meeting with teachers. We are all agreed that the only way to resolve differences and move forward is to have the hard conversations in a civil manner. I'm proud that this is now occurring at the local, state, and national level. Also, please be reminded that for a teacher at the college level to be considered successful, they must publish.
8. On behalf of the LRCTA and LRSD, I remain committed to sitting down and having the difficult conversations that help us achieve our goal of providing a learning environment where teachers truly can teach and students truly can learn.
I have great respect and admiration for each of you and the selfless work you do.