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Flagler School Board Balks Over New Teacher Contract; Union President Calls It “Bad Faith”

| February 21, 2012

When the Flagler County School Board goes on the road. (© FlaglerLive)

Negotiations between the Flagler County school district and its teacher union can be tense and unpredictable. But last November 10, both sides signed a memorandum of understanding settling all issues for this year’s contract, including agreement on how teachers would be evaluated under a new, controversial merit-pay system. Teachers ratified the agreement three weeks ago. The school board was to ratify it this morning at an open meeting held at Matanzas High School’s Pirates Theater.

It did, and it didn’t.

The half measure doesn’t affect students’ school days directly, at least not yet. But it could have dire consequences if relations between the district and the union sour, just as the two sides are working toward establishing next year’s schedule, which will affect such things as the length of the school day, the programs to be offered, and the number of teachers that will hired or fired. After last year’s negotiations, the school day was shortened and 41 teaching positions were cut.

The board this morning held a long closed-door session with Jerry Copeland, its negotiator, to discuss its strategy. Florida law allows such closed meetings as long as the discussion is limited to bargaining strategy. When the board convened in open session, it voted to ratify the contract with teachers—with an exception.

The board tabled for future discussions a crucial portion of the contract that both sides had agreed to previously: since the merit-based evaluation system is new (and extremely complicated), the union was asking that in its first year, no teacher be rated, overall, lower than “needs improvement,” out of four ratings, “needs improvement” being the third, with “unsatisfactory” falling below it. (Note: an earlier version of this article incorrectly referred to the cut-off mark as “unsatisfactory.” See the fuller explanation in the comment below.)

“It is a new tool, the administrators are still getting training on how to use the tool,” Katie Hansen, president of the Flagler County Educators Association, said. “So much of it is untested and unexplainable.” Other districts, she said, have agreed to similar terms.

When the board tabled that portion of the contract, Hansen was livid.

“To say that I’m disappointed in the actions of the board this morning in terms of the FCEA contract is putting it extremely mildly,” she said. “As I’m sure you do on your side, when FCEA puts their trust to me to go to the table, I go on their behalf, I bargain what is best for them, as I’m sure you direct your team to do. The employees, the teachers of Flagler County, ratified this contract as a whole. The same was expected of the school board this morning. As far as the FCEA is concerned, the district has bargained in bad faith, and has potentially committed an unfair labor practice. Unless you vote on the package as a whole. Frankly, we go back to the table on Thursday, and there’s a whole lot of distrust now, moving forward through this process.”

The board did not address Hansen directly when she spoke. Toward the end of the meeting, board member Colleen Conklin said: “We did not violate the trust. You’ve made an assumption. You don’t know what the conversation was just yet, and I hope that after this meeting you get more details about what this conversation is, and we absolutely want to work with you on the memorandum of understanding. The language which was there right now could not be used by Doe”—the Department of Education—“we were specifically notified of that and we would be in violation of it. But we absolutely discussed in great detail the concern. It is valid. We are working on the language. That’s why it was tabled.” She added: “We’ll be coming back and working on language that works for everybody.”

By mid-afternoon, however, Hansen was not placated, and was all but certain that the bargaining session scheduled for Thursday would be called off. “I’m not sure how we’re going to move forward,” Hansen said. “This is new territory for me I’ve never had a situation where the school board bifurcated the contract.”

None of this directly affects the day-to-day operation of schools from students’ perspectives: teachers will still be teaching, as they have all along, even though their contract hadn’t been ratified.

But a souring of relations between the union and the district can have serious consequences on the kind of services students can expect, if, for example, either side chooses to compromise less. The district did just that last spring, when it cited financial urgencies to justify revamping the school day for middle and high school students, reducing it by 45 minutes and eliminating about 41 teaching positions, to save $2 million. Students have been feeling the effects of that vast change all year, and may yet pay consequences of the change in their test scores—which, in turn, will now begin to affect teacher pay.

Teachers have been feeling the effects of the revamped school day, too, since the district moved teachers’ planning periods (when teachers have one period during the day to plan their work, without students) outside the regularly scheduled class hours. The move was unpopular among teachers, who want it reversed next year. In any case, the agreement to have the planning period outside the regular school day was for one year only. The two sides would have to sign an agreement renewing that arrangement for next year.

The union and the district were to begin negotiating that issue, and others, at Thursday’s bargaining session. That’s now in question.

School Superintendent Janet Valentine said the district’s finances are still “critical,” and that moving the planning period back inside the school day would entail yet again hiring extra teachers that the district cannot afford.

Last year the union said the district could use some of its $9 million reserves to preserve the longer school day and save jobs. The district countered that it was needing to use its reserves anyway, and that those reserves would have been cut by half had some staff cuts not taken place.

The district’s reserves are falling anyway, Finance Director Tom Tant said. The district started the year with a reserve of $8.9 million. By year’s end, the reserves will be at $6.2 million, Tant said, falling further next year. “We knew that, we planned on that,” Tant said. “Next year it’ll probably decline to $5.8 million.” The reserve had been increased in large part thanks to the Obama administration’s stimulus package, which channeled $7 million to the district over two years. That money is gone. The state, too, cut its contributions to the district.

Before this morning’s open meeting—but after the closed-door session–Copeland was asked about the prospects of further budget cuts for next year. “Right now,” he said, “we’re not looking at having tio cut at this time. Now, we may want to put quotation marks around at this time.” The hang-up is that planning period.

Meanwhile, principals are having to plan next year’s schedules, and are lacking clarity on how to proceed.

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9 Responses for “Flagler School Board Balks Over New Teacher Contract; Union President Calls It “Bad Faith””

  1. Doug Chozianin says:

    I’m tired of reading about how the poor teachers are always getting screwed.

    If you fire the incompetent ones (the union wants all the teachers to get a satisfactory rating the first year until these “complex” rating rules are sorted out) there wouldn’t be a problem. The rating rule is simple: Do a good job or your out. If current principals can’t properly evaluate their staff, hire principals who can.

    Let’s read more about how good teachers can make a positive difference to students and society.

  2. JR says:

    Thanks FL for this article on how the BBSB (Big Bad School Board) is picking on the SITU (Sweet Innocent Teacher’s Union). Yeah, Hansen, it would be nice to guarantee a rating of ‘satisfactory’ on a review — but then it wouldn’t be a review. Maybe the teachers shouldn’t give students failing grades either, or hold them to a standard that would actually require them to invest in their own education. We hear all day long about how hard it is for students from disadvantaged backgrounds, and how many don’t have enough to eat, or supplies for school. Those are all factors, but it doesn’t help someone to tell them that they’re ‘satisfactory’ when they aren’t.

  3. Katie Hansen says:

    First, let me clarify that there is an error in the article. There are four ratings for the teacher evaluation tool: Highly Effective, Effective, Needs Improvement, and Unsatisfactory. The agreement that was signed stated that no teacher would receive less than “Needs Improvement” for an overall rating – not less than Satisfactory. A teacher could still have a rating that qualifies them as below what would be considered “satisfactory.”

    We firmly believe in holding teachers to a high standard. Teachers set much higher expectations on themselves than any principal or state legislator ever could. We also believe, however, that if a teacher’s performance is lacking in any way, that it is the responsibility of the administrators to assist that teacher. Despite what you may believe, teacher Unions do not want “bad teachers” in classrooms any more than you do. I have two children, one of which is already in Flagler County Schools. All students deserve to have good quality teachers. I believe that if you spent a day in the schools, you would see the dedicated teachers that are working to make a difference in the lives of their students.

    Last, if you could please explain the following equation to me, I would greatly appreciate it:
    Ait =α1Xit +α2Xit−1 +K+αtXi1 +φ1Fit +φ2Fit−1 +K+φtFi1 +β1Eit +β2Eit−1 +K+βtEi1 +ψtμi0 +εit (2)
    (and this is only ONE of more than 10 equations that will go into the calculation for my evaluation rating).

    Katie Hansen
    FCEA President

  4. Liana G says:

    Let’s not saddle these kids with an entire year of incompetent teaching to solely benefit the individuals being paid to educate them. This is NOT what tax dollars for public education is for – job security and protection. I would like to see teachers given the evaluation they deserve – poor/satisfactory/excellent. Many states have already implemented an evaluation system. Why can’t we?

    A suggestion that I would like to make is for administrators to evaluate teachers at a school/schools other than theirs. This would make the evaluations fair by preventing advantages for some who have an unusually “cozy” relationship with their administrators.

  5. Sara says:

    THANKS to Katie Hansen and her entire team for all their hard work. I encourage anyone who has doubts in how the public education system is run, evaluated, etc. to come volunteer in a classroom.

  6. Liana G says:

    I do spend and have spent a great deal of time in the classrooms and because of this I am convinced that:

    1) Incompetent teachers, of which there are many (and I will refrain from detailing why they are incompetent), need to be removed from educating our kids. I am sure these teachers are wonderful individuals, but wonderful individuals do not necessarily make for highly effective/effective teachers.

    2) It is NOT the responsibility of the administrator to assist a teacher whose performance is lacking in anyway, unless the teacher has the qualities to make a potentially highly effective/effective teacher. Then and only then, the school district needs to provide mentoring programs along with training workshops for these individuals. The reason I say this is there are administrators who can also benefit from such programs, so to have an administrator who is lacking assist a teacher who is lacking is totally pointless.

    One of the best mandates to come out of the President’s American Jobs Bill is to hold Colleges of Education accountable for the quality of teachers they graduate. This is where the biggest failure in education lies. Finally, someday soon ALL of our children will benefit from highly effective teachers. To those highly effective/effective teachers out there – Thank you and Kudos! The quality of your work and your dedication shows in the quality of your students’ work and their desire to learn.

  7. tamapanative says:

    Liana G.

    You often post regarding the effectiveness and quality of teachers. What makes a teacher incompetent according to your supposed expertise?

    Secondly, in any profession it is the job of the administrator, boss, supervisor to assist the employees in their charge to make them better. I have yet to work at a job where they do not want to assist in any way shape or form to help make an employee a better employee.

    • Liana G says:

      In response to your 1st comment:-

      I would like to say my supposed expertise comes from being a parent of 4 children, ages 14 – 24, who has spent many years and hours in the classroom. I would like to say it comes from reading many teachers blogs and journal articles / research papers / investigative reports giving insight into the American classroom / Education System. I would also like to say my supposed expertise comes from being an ESE pre-service teacher exposed to K-12 classrooms. In addition to all of this, I will say with absolute certainty that when I graduate in a few months, with my endorsements and certifications in TESOL, Reading, Autism, ESE, and Math from a small academically focused non-sports crazed college with a maximum of 25 students per classroom, I will not have the total confidence and the expertise to teach in a classroom with the training I have received. May I enquire of your supposed expertise?

      My son, a recent engineering graduate from UCF, told me of a petition one of his professors had passed around that had to do with improving academic rigor. The professor had approached the Dean of Academics asking for more vigorous and stringent academic focus and the Dean’s response of “we don’t care about academics” motivated him to act. I hope this professor has tenure.

      In response to your 2nd comment:-

      In many professions, employee improvement training is done by professionals who are experts in the field. But what do I know, I only get to accompany my husband on some of these training sessions when spouses are invited. I am certainly glad his previous boss did not train him in any way whatsoever. Probably the same way some employees feel about their bosses in this community. Tony Capela, and Mr. Landon and more come to mind from reading the comments on this very site.

  8. PalmCoast says:

    Liana G
    Your post does speak volumes!!!…YOU are so Correct in ALL you posted….Kuddos to you for posting!!…I could not have said it better myself!!

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