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An Indecent Proposal

Support Springboro TeachersThe Springboro School Board recently published its initial contract proposal to the teachers on the front page of the district website, along with the teachers’ initial proposal, and then the board went on to promote it in the media. They did this in violation of the spirit of private negotiations and potentially the law. While this may seem a little shocking to most rational human beings familiar with private contract negotiations, this is just dysfunctional business as usual in Springboro. What is actually confusing is why our school board would want to call attention to the steaming pile of contractual nonsense they produced?

The school board claims that they published these documents out of a desire for greater transparency. Perhaps this is true. Having read their proposal to our teachers I can say that one thing appears to be very transparent and crystal clear – this board is not committed to the future of our schools. It shows that they have little concern for the success of our kids and no respect for the excellent teachers they employ. They clearly want complete and total control over the operations of the school district and are willing to go to great lengths to feed their unquenchable thirst for political power. Instead of rewarding the hard work and outstanding accomplishments of our teachers and recognizing the sacrifices these dedicated employees have made by offering a fair and equitable agreement, this board believes they have a mandate to punish our teachers, force them to strike, and beat them into complete submission – all in the name of politics.  District, kids, and community be damned, as long as they get what they want.  Not only do they appear to believe this, they seem to be incredibly proud of it.

Maybe they expected that people would not read the contract they proposed. Like the increasingly frequent board meetings we pay to endure, it is longwinded, boring, and one-sided, so I understand why they may have believed people would not have the desire to spend time reviewing it. Here’s the good news: I’ve taken the time to read the contract and pull out some of the highlights, or maybe lowlights, of the document they value so dearly to help make “transparency” a little clearer for you.

20 Things To Know About The Springboro School Board Contract Proposal: 

1. Playing Charades –  Reading through the contract it quickly becomes obvious that the board has no interest in negotiating in good faith, but instead would like to dictate the outcome to meet only their needs. Article 2 outlines the process for negotiations. It seems reasonable as you read through the initial paragraphs. Then comes the interesting part. Section 2.08. Following a paragraph that discusses how mediators will be used if the board and teachers can’t agree comes a new paragraph inserted by the board. This paragraph says that in the event the sides do not come to an agreement, the final proposal of the board is final. Take it or strike. This also means they can force the issue and have the strike take place in the summer, which quietly hurts the teachers without extending that pain to the public until the fall. All of this back and forth we are seeing now is nothing but a show. The board wants what the board wants, not what the teachers, kids, or community needs, and what the board wants is to destroy the teachers union. Do we have a powerful, bullying union that is making insane demands on the public? I don’t think so.  Judging by the simple fact that the teachers have had their pay frozen for years, it’s pretty easy to discern that unreasonable union demands are not a problem that needs to be addressed in our community. Nope, this is purely political. So the first major addition to the contract is language that is punitive to the teachers. Thanks teachers for all the hard work. Here’s a huge slap in the face as your reward for a job well done.

2. Deja Vu All Over Again? – Section 2.14 says that the board can come back and re-negotiate the contract in the event that the board can’t meet the financial obligations of the contract. This sounds reasonable until you consider that the teachers are later forbidden from renegotiating terms until the contract expires. Because the board controls the allocation of budget dollars, they can potentially force renegotiations by spending the budget on something other than teachers and then cry poverty to force additional cuts. This board has shown a propensity for the extreme, so while this might seem unlikely to occur in normal organizations, nothing is normal in Springboro these days. They have no trust with the teachers or the community and need to do a far better job of spelling out the details of this demand for it to make any sense.

3. Judge & Jury – If you were in a dispute with someone and could not reach an agreement, a logical next step might be arbitration. Would you enter into arbitration, knowing that it was not binding and that the other party had the final say anyway? How about if they also threatened to stick you with the bill in the event you were unsuccessful? Well, section 4.04, paragraph e, pertains to employee discipline and the arbitration process and does precisely that. The preceding paragraphs in section 4 outline the employee discipline arbitration process. Then paragraph e includes new language which says that while the teachers association has a right to arbitration, the findings will only be advisory. The board gets to make the final ruling, making this process pointless. Worse still, it goes on to say that the cost of arbitration will be paid for by the losing party. The previous contract stated that all parties shared the costs of arbitration, placing the incentive on reaching agreement by collaboration and negotiation not through intimidation. This new language gives the board complete control and unchecked power, making them judge and jury and giving them financial incentive to rule on their own behalf.

4. Sit Down and Shut Up – In section 5.04 – paragraph B the board has removed an entire paragraph of language that gave the teachers association the right to have time to speak about items of concern at school board meetings. This appears to be yet another attempt to restrict the teachers from having their concerns publicly voiced and properly addressed – although the board rarely acknowledges public concerns anyway. This change also makes it more difficult for the public to be informed about issues and events in the schools and marginalizes the teachers voice. If you are wondering if the board cares about the concerns and opinions of our teachers, this appears to be pretty clear evidence that they do not.

5. Seriously, Shut Up and Go Away! – The board is trying to prevent the teachers from having membership on district wide committees, which could effectively eliminate them from the decision making process of these groups altogether. In section 5.05 paragraph a, the board removed the language that gave the teachers association the right to appoint a teacher to represent them on district wide committees – for example like the one that is currently considering arming teachers with guns. They want to take a group of stakeholders that offers incredible insight and is directly impacted by almost any district wide committee and simply shut them out as they see fit. This also shuts out the community as the teachers can no longer inform the public about the issues facing the district. This seems vindictive, punitive, and foolish, but if the board wants to keep its intentions secret from the public, this is certainly one way to go about it. Once again the board wants more secrecy, more control, and more unchecked power.  The board can talk transparency all it wants, but actions like this offer far more clarity into their intentions than empty rhetoric and hollow promises.

6. Divided They Shall Fall – If the intent of the board is to break the union, forcing a strike is step one. Step 2 then appears to be eliminating the requirement to teachers to pay for membership in the union all together. Our local union has 100% membership, probably in part because of the fear of what this draconian school board intends to do to them. Thus, local union pressure or strong arming teachers to join is not a problem that is impacting teachers or our schools. In Section 5.11, the board basically creates a penalty for joining the teachers association by removing the Fair Share Fee. For teachers who may be forced to strike, this will put additional pressure on them to cross the lines when money gets tight. Fragmenting the teachers, ultimately weakens the teachers, putting the board closer to their goal with this contract by making a pointless and senseless political statement. The fee is paid by teachers and there is no reason for the board to remove this from the contract other than to weaken the teachers union so they can exert further control over the teachers.

7. Your Permanent Record – Taking a page from the Joseph McCarthy playbook, in Section 7.03  the board removed language that forced it to notify teachers if something was put in their personnel file. It also removes the process of having a teacher sign acknowledgement that the item was placed in the file. This is another example of the board not wanting to openly and honestly communicate with teachers.

8. Trust Us – Article 8 – Removes all district specific language relative to the employee evaluation process. The board is relying entirely on using broad state code to govern a local district and not documenting their interpretation of the code. Thus there is no consensus as to the actual process or how it will be implemented. This is problematic because it does not create clear expectations and leaves interpretation of this law entirely up to the board. Teachers could be given unfavorable reviews based on limited and possibly misleading limited data sets, which could negatively impact their careers. A process this important should be clearly defined and mutually agreed upon.

9. Thanks for Nothing – Section 9.01 paragraph e removes seniority as a consideration for filling vacant positions in the district. This means that teachers who have faithfully served the district for years could be bypassed for cheaper, less qualified teachers. Seniority should not be the only consideration, but experience is important to any job. Apparently the board sees educating our children as somehow different – a unique job where experience in the field, relationships with the community, and accumulated tribal knowledge are all meaningless.

10. I’m Sorry, I Know You How? Not to be outdone by paragraph e, Section 9.01 paragraph f removes language that seeks to keep our existing teachers employed within the district by seeking to fill open positions from within the district before hiring from the general public. Again this gives the board the power to cut positions and remove experienced teachers from the district as opposed to reassigning them within the district. This is consistent with the board’s desire to intimidate, punish, and weaken our teachers.

11. Written in Code – Section 11 deals with discipline and removal of teachers. The board again relies on Ohio revised code, but offers no interpretation in the form of policy, process, or procedure. Further, they go on to offer the disciplined or non-renewed teacher the option to go through arbitration, but as they have redefined the meaning of arbitration in this contract, they would have the ultimate decision. There would be financial incentive to rule in their own favor, as the board would be responsible for all costs of arbitration in the event that they ruled in favor of the teacher. This is in no way equitable, objective, or reasonable.

12. Decoder Ring Not Included– Section 12.03. The board states that it will rely on Ohio Revised code section 3319.19 but does not offer a specific interpretation of the code. Thus the board has the ability to interpret the law broadly and potentially in a way that is unfair or unknown to the teachers. This means that reduction in force decisions can be made without clear guidelines known by teachers or the community.

13. Family Matters? I have no idea how a federal labor law gets removed from the agreement, but in Section 14.17 the board wants to remove the Family Medical Leave Act from the contract. Perhaps the board does not want to include this in the contract in the event that federal law changes in the future. Removing this language may have no tangible impact, but the symbolic impact of it is clear.  The board does not value our teachers.

14. Plan Your Work and Work Your Plan – One of the most important parts of the day for a teacher is the planning period. This is a time to balance the demands of the lesson plan with the daily needs of the children. This is also a time when a teacher can spend one on one time with a student who may be struggling academically or socially. To borrow a phrase from the late Steven Covey, the planning period is when teachers can take time to sharpen the saw of effectiveness in a system increasingly focused on driving greater efficiency. With our district spending less per student than any other district in the Dayton area, it is safe to say our people are stretched very thin and our expectations for performance are extremely high. Our board has decided in Section 15 that it would be wise to reduce the planning time allotted to teachers. In K – 5 they cut 25% of their planning time and they eliminate the designated planning period entirely. In grades 6-12 the time is set at 150 minutes per week and the planning period is also eliminated. Remember that some teachers are responsible for multiple subjects, so the effect on them will be crushing. In a day that runs on a rigid schedule, this plan for planning makes no sense… unless you made the teachers work longer hours, which the board does, extending the workday by 45 minutes. Oh, and later when they propose compensation, there appears to be no related adjustment in compensation. Congratulations teachers. You’ll now work longer, do more, and have less time and pay to show for it.

15. High Five – Section 15.05 removes the language around additional compensation for teachers who are assigned to teach four different courses. It raises the threshold of additional compensation to five courses. This sets the stage for potential reduction in force measures that will force teachers to take on the instruction of more courses. They can push more teachers into teaching four courses without have to pay them for the additional workload. Teachers give and the board takes… again, and again, and again.

16. Children First? In section 15.06 the board has removed even the very mention of targets for class size. While this language was aspirational, it at least set goals for class size. The board did not even replace it with new target class sizes. This means that the board can increase class size without concern for teacher effectiveness or student performance. This is in stark contrast to the Children First rhetoric that this board has used so freely. Those words are being show as empty promises masking bad intentions and selfish political motives. When it comes to class size, the more the merrier is no way to run a district.

17. Call Me Maybe? Section 15.09 – The board is eliminating access to a telephone that teachers could use. This would force teachers to use a personal number to contact parents during the school day – at their own expense and also with the cost of their own personal privacy. This is another attempt by the board to create a chasm between the teachers and the community.

18. You’ll Get Nothing And Like It! No surprises from the board when it comes to their approach to paying our teachers. Section 17.01. continues the pay freeze for teachers, with base salary remaining at $34,653. The board includes language that states that they want to create a compensation committee to develop an incentive plan for additional compensation, but offers no timeline for implementation or alternative compensation plan in the interim period. Thus the board has no incentive to actually create this plan. This is a hollow offer. Our teachers will now have the promise of a longer, more stressful workday with no documented restrictions on class size, no planning period, less input, and no prospects of having a salary increase in the foreseeable future. This is not going to attract the best new teachers to our district nor will it do much to retain the quality teachers we have now. The board is shortchanging the most important part of our children’s educational process – the teachers. Our teachers are responsible for making our district one of the finest, most efficient school systems in the State and the board rewards them with… nothing.

19. Unhealthy – In section 18.02 he board eliminated language that stated they would pay 90% percent of the cost of insurance and replaced it with specific dollar amounts that they would pay. Unfortunately the language used by the board does not even state that the board will pay that amount, but rather that it will pay up to that amount, which could be interpreted as any amount up to the defined amount. Furthermore the board does not disclose how much the employee will pay, which is really what matters to the teachers. One would assume they used some sort of data to calculate their contribution, so why can’t they complete the section by solving the equation? As is, teachers will have no idea how much insurance will cost their families. Adding insult to injury is the next paragraph, which includes language that may force spouses off of the health plan in 2014.

20. The Big Finish – The document ends with something called the Complete Agreement Article. This new language added by the board states that both sides had the opportunity to negotiate and bargain fairly and that this contract is binding above all else. It says that collective bargaining is not available during the period covered by the contract and that the contract is set in place. The language here is baseless because the contract contains language that says the board has the final right to implement whatever it deems to be the final contract and that it can change the contract based on changes to the law – thus the terms proposed by the board violate their own contract. The board gets flexibility but the teachers get stuck. One last insult to close out a document that is a manifesto for educational mismanagement. Way to finish strong school board.

I value our teachers. I believe they deliver incredible value to our community in the form of world class educational instruction at an incredibly affordable price. They do not get enough respect from our community and we have consistently undervalued the importance they have to our community. Our board is fully aware of how exceptional our teachers are, but refuse to acknowledge it because of politics and power. The bottom line: Our teachers and our community deserve better than what is presented in this document. We as a community must demand it, because as is clearly outlined in the paragraphs above, the teachers are powerless to do it themselves. Wake up, stand up, and fight for those who fight for our kids. Show our teachers and our kids that you believe in Boro Pride.