Steamboat Springs The Steamboat Springs Board of Education and staff started the first of three days of discussion about a master agreement Wednesday night.
Board President Dan Birch cautioned participants that the meeting was meant to be informational rather than confrontational.
The meeting, attended by teachers, administrators, support staff and members of the Steamboat Springs Education Association Master Agreement Task Force, is a prelude to two days of facilitated discussion between the board and the same groups.
The SSEA invited members of two school districts working under master contracts, and those of another district connected by a conference call, to talk about their experiences.
A master agreement is a binding contract between a teacher's union and a board of education that lays out working conditions and terms of employment. It can be opened for renegotiation with the mutual agreement of both parties.
The SSEA presented information about a master agreement to the board in March, but was told the board was not interested. Teachers and staff were disheartened. But, after a very heated school board meeting on April 10, the board decided to explore a master agreement with the association.
"That's what we wanted all along," Master Agreement Task Force member Don Schwartz said after Wednesday's meeting.
Three speakers discussed how master agreements have worked in their districts. Jerry Fabyanic, president of the Summit Education Association, said his district has been working under a master agreement for a year and it has been received favorably so far.
Mike Nieslanik, director of human resources for Canon City schools, which have had a master agreement since the early 1970s, said it helps define the relationship.
"It's the rules of the game. Just like an athletic event, if you have a rule book everybody knows what is supposed to happen," he said.
The drawback, he said, is that if you are specific in the agreement, it can be limiting.
Board member Millie Beall asked Nieslanik what was the difference between a master agreement and the district's negotiated policies. He said that a master agreement can only be changed by mutual agreement and it supersedes board policy.
Currently in the Steamboat Springs School District, the board can unilaterally change policy.
The board also heard comments from Woodland Park Board of Education member Jim Turner. The message from all three speakers was that trust and communication did improve, but each district is different and has to do what is best for it.
None of the master agreements discussed included support staff.
Birch said that while he knows there is some frustration from staff in the collaborative bargaining process, which the district uses to negotiate, he wonders what the difference would be in coming to a mutual agreement for a master contract.
The SSEA is still looking for direct talks with the board and feels it should be recognized as bargaining agent for 80 percent of the certified staff, according to Sue MacCarthy of the SSEA. The board however, declined that request, she said.
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