Steamboat Springs After several long meetings last week, the Steamboat Springs School District staff, administration and Board of Education made strides in repairing a relationship that was fraying.
In two, day-long facilitated meetings late last week, the groups decided to make several changes to the board's governing policy manual called, appropriately enough, Policy Governance and formed several new committees to deal with negotiated policies.
While the impetus for strained relations between the board and teachers was the board's refusal to explore a legally binding master contract, that issue has been put on the "back burner," according to Steamboat Springs Education Association president Ann Keating.
"So much more came out of it than that," Keating said.
Instead, the board will no longer have unilateral power to make changes to negotiated policies. Any policy that needs to be changed will go through the collaborative bargaining process, which was how it was done prior to policy governance.
"We recognize the wisdom of going back and trying to recreate what we created years ago," board president Dan Birch said. "I'd like to see us focus on education and this was an impediment to that."
The two other policy changes included recognizing the SSEA as the bargaining agent for all teachers, which was changed with Policy Governance, and creating a written impasse procedure that includes mediation.
Representatives of the different groups at the meeting, which also included support staff and members of the Master Agreement Task Force, said that the facilitation by Bob Chadwick made them get issues out in the open, clear the air and then start talking about what action to take.
"I don't think this represents a compromise on anybody's part," Steamboat Springs Middle School Principal Sandy Hall said. "After all the conversation, all the parties finally understood what the other was thinking."
Relations between the board and staff have been tense since March, when the board rejected exploring a binding master contract. It later reconsidered that decision, resulting in last week's meetings.
"The key component of this is that there has been a tremendous amount of upset and the issues have been festering for a couple of years," Birch said. "What happened last week was a reaffirmation of the process of getting people together that hold different views and working through their problems."
The group also decided to form three subcommittees, including the Negotiated Policy Review subcommittee, which will update and learn all policies dealing with terms of employment and working conditions and become contact people for staff. The Collaborative Bargaining Team Review subcommittee will evaluate the collaborative bargaining process and the Communication Linkages subcommittee will try to keep staff-board communication intact so the same situation doesn't happen again.
While collaborative bargaining had several empty teacher spots, Keating said that she had SSEA members signing up for both collaborative bargaining and the new committees at a meeting Tuesday to present the information.
Keating said that at that meeting, several people questioned why the SSEA did not take a harder line.
"We didn't hold that hard line because you get a reality check and you learn and you grow," she said.
"The reality of holding a hard line is that nobody would come to an agreement," Hall added. "The solution is better than either party's ideas."
Gail Haight, who represented support staff, said that her group is pleased by the plan.
"Support staff is relieved we won't have lose our voice in (collaborative bargaining) without having to join the SSEA," she said.
Birch said that board will hopefully vote on changes to Policy Governance at the June meeting.
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