Board backs off stance against teachers' request

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— After a more than two-hour discussion with 85 teachers, parents and community members, the Steamboat Springs Board of Education backed off its plan to kill discussion about a master agreement Monday night.

An amendment to a resolution on the issue stated that a master agreement may serve as a satisfactory method of communication. It stated that the board is "committed to further discussion of staff issues and concerns, working toward a solution which may include the master agreement discussion."

The amended resolution was approved unanimously by three board members present, president Dan Birch, Millie Beall and Paul Fisher. Matt Hermes and Tom Sharp were absent.

Birch added a caveat that the master agreement is not assured, however.

"We might get to the end of the discussion and the answer about a master agreement might very well be no," he said. "One of the reasons is if this constitutes some form of joint decision-making."

The feeling from a handful of teachers left by the time the board finally made its decision was that it was a start.

"At least it's a means of communication," Steamboat Springs High School teacher Brad Weber said.

The board was attacked for not discussing or researching a master agreement, although it was part of the fall 1999 Collaborative Bargaining Agreement.

"My big concern as a professional is having the board saying they are going to do something and then renege on it," high school teacher Dex Shorter said.

The board said it doesn't know what the issues are, but is very willing to talk about them, whatever they are. Birch said a discussion might yield more common ground than expected.

"I think this is a symptom of other problems and we need to provide the opportunity to sit down and talk about those issues," he said.

While the board said it called members of school task forces and committees and they were in agreement with the board's view, Soda Creek Elementary parent Karen Van Patten spoke up with a different opinion.

She said that the topic of a master agreement did not concern her as much as the fact that the board shut it down so quickly.

"I don't care what the end result is; the fact is you did a bad thing. You didn't listen," Van Patten said.

Strawberry Park Elementary teacher Celia Dunham said she was dismayed that the board only did minimal research. She said that while she still needs to learn about master agreements, she is at least willing to try.

Members of the Steamboat Springs Education Association have been researching a master agreement and presented some preliminary information to the board at a March 6 study session.

Although no vote was taken, the board said at that time that it was not in favor of a master agreement, emphasizing the need for communication instead.

From the SSEA's view, it was surprised that the board was so emphatic in its rejection of the master agreement.

A master agreement is a negotiated and binding contract between a board of education and an education association that lays out terms of employment, compensation and benefits. Any changes must be agreed upon by both the board and the association. The contract can be a one-year or a multi-year agreement.

Currently, staff and the superintendent participate in a collaborative bargaining process, in which decisions are reached by consensus. Many teachers complained that collaborative bargaining is a time-consuming process that takes them out of the classroom.

Several questions came up about the role of Policy Governance, which is the board's method of self-governing, as well as clearly delineating its and Superintendent Cyndy Simms' responsibilities.

Board member Fisher said that Policy Governance gives teachers more power by removing the board from the day-to-day decisions in the classroom. Soda Creek teacher Sharon Clementson disagreed with that.

"I feel like I have no authority in the classroom," she said, citing the fact that school goals are determined by the District Accountability and School Accountability committees and mandated to the teachers.

Policy Governance, which the board finalized two years ago, does give the board the power to change any negotiated decision -- a power its members said was crucial for them to have.

"The policy said that there would not be 50-50 authority on decision-making. The board feels that is not appropriate to be in the negotiated policies," Beall said.

She said the staff would have to trust the board.

"We would never pull out the rug from the teachers in this district. We're all for the same causes," she said. "We would be shooting ourselves in the foot."

Some said trustworthiness is an issue, particularly because the board will eventually change and the next one may not be of the same frame of mind.

"I have no idea who is going to fill those chairs and have the same power," Soda Creek teacher Barb Keenan said.

Strawberry Park teacher Susan Ogden said that there is not a complete updated policy manual at the school and that sending teachers to the district office to research a policy puts them in an awkward position.

Staff members are currently reviewing the policies and have some changes to make, according to Steamboat Springs Middle School teacher Sue McCarthy.

Joan Allsberry said that while this ongoing topic has not affected teaching, it has affected teachers.

"It has infiltrated attitudes and is soon to infiltrate the committees we're on and all the things that we do," she said.

Board President Birch said he is concerned about that and wants to get the discussion going.

Superintendent Simms did not speak during the meeting, except when her opinion was asked by a parent.

"I think that communication has gone both ways and both parties have hopefully heard each other," she said.

No date was set to discuss the matter further.


-- To reach Jennifer Bartlett call 871-4204 or e-mail jbartlett@amigo.net

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