Cooperation is Risky
My Thoughts: This is the 5th or 6th
positive newsletter in a row. This is completely out of my experience and
perhaps its out of Franks experience too. His prose is extremely wary He writes
like a kid walking out on thin ice. There's plenty of spin on this newsletter
that I could argue with but its not worth correcting a
message that continues to be conciliatory. Carp diem!
NEWSLETTER MARCH 30 2000
The history of the Duluth Public Schools during the past decade was one of continued conflict
strife between the school board/administration and the teachers. During this period I believe
we demonstrated that we are able to hold our own against hostile school boards and
superintendents. We went toe to toe in school
board meetings and in the media. We won more often than we lost. We worked to change the
school board through the election process. We proved that we can do battle, if we have to.
We also learned that fighting has a cost. It diverts time and resources from what we really need to be doing. I believe
that both groups have come to realize that we need to develop new relationships, new methods,
new trust and new purpose.
Departure from what is known is not without peril and risk. During the last set of negotiations
we made a conscious decision to release as little information as possible to the media. We felt that
negotiating through the press was counterproductive. Had the approach not worked and a
strike had been necessary, we would have had to work fast to inform the public and win
support. After the settlement the superintendent and I decided to issue a joint message. A good idea, but
not without risk. The superintendent could be criticized for "selling out to the union" and I for
"being too close to the administration." I think that the results were worth the risk. It seems that
there is a different feeling in the district today than there existed two or three years ago.
Another decision, not without risk, was made to move some of the items from the negotiation table
to committees which would work during the course of the contract to deal with issues
or develop actual contract language to be effective with the next contract. The advantage is that
issues can be dealt with in a less adversarial context. The risk is that a committee may not be
successful and the issue may be more difficult to deal with later. I believe that an opportunity to
work together in a problem solving fashion is important. If it doesn't work, we will try
Several committees are already hard at work. The committee with perhaps the most at stake is the
committee working on severance issues. This group has the daunting task of developing
language to deal with the looming problem of constructive receipt and providing new
opportunities to actually improve severance through 403b accounts and district matches. At the same
time they need to be sure that there is no loss to those close to retirement. They need to be sure it's
legal, it's better, and it is acceptable to both parties. Fortunately, we have some excellent
people serving on the committee. They have had
three meetings to date. I am not an official member of the committee, but have sat in on
portions of their meetings. It is great to see what can happen when we join with the District to
approach issues on a problem-solving basis. Even if no resolution is reached prior to negotiations,
the group will have accomplished a lot due to the research they will have done.
Other joint D.F.T. /District problem-solving committees are attacking issues which have
continued to plague both parties. These include the Special Education Caseloads/Assignment
Committee, Specialists Assignment/Workload Committee and a group working to disburse the
money on the Co-curricular Schedule.
The Superintendent and I have discussed returning to the labor-management process as outlined
in the contract. This should not be a problem as there is language in place indicating the
willingness of both parties to participate. The difficulty is that a good deal of baggage remains from our last
attempts to make the process work. During the last year of its existence the District Steering
Committee accomplished little. Much has changed since then, however and I believe that this is the
time to try again. We need to have a way of dealing with issues which are difficult to resolve
in negotiations and to share information. Thus, I would like to make Labor-Management a priority.
Several of us have spoken with Finance Director Greg Hein about establishing a budget committee which would include teachers. The idea would be to give teacher representatives a chance to become involved in the budgeting process, learn about finances, share information and so on. The responsibility for the budget adoption would still rest with the superintendent and school board, but a lot more people would have an idea of the status of revenues and expenditures.
We have an opportunity to address our concerns, issues and needs in a fashion different from what we have often used in the past. The risk is that what we are trying to do will not work and everyone involved will be frustrated and bitter, which will in turn lead to antagonism and another round of hostility. If we look only at what we feel to be risks, we may miss a chance to address concerns in a way which will improve the image of the district and the union.