The Flagler County School Board and the Flagler County Educators Association, the union that represents 500 of the county’s 800-some teachers, are in conflict over new language in the teachers’ contract. The overwhelming majority of the contract is not in dispute. A few lines that define how teachers are to be evaluated are. The new evaluation system is required by federal regulation and state law. It establishes criteria for merit pay and makes it easier to fire teachers.
The evaluation system rates teachers four ways. The lowest rating would be “Unsatisfactory.” Two such ratings in a row could lead to the teacher’s firing. The union wanted the “Unsatisfactory” rating to be excluded from evaluations in the first year that the system is implemented—and only in the first year—to give teachers and administrators time to adapt. The school board refused to ratify that provision of the contract, saying it would have been illegal to do so, then rescinded its vote ratifying the rest of the contract, because it had itself only partially approved the contract, which is not allowed by law. The union charged bad faith. School board member Colleen Conklin and School Superintendent Janet Valentine argue that no such bad faith exist. Conklin originally posted the following narrative on her Facebook page. For background on the story, go here and here.
By Colleen Conklin and Janet Valentine
It’s really unfortunate but it seems as though only half the story regarding the pending teachers union contract before the Flagler County School Board is being shared with teachers. Creating an adversarial situation does no one any good and I’m struggling to figure out why we are in the middle of this turmoil when it could have been avoided.
We only have a few morning meetings a year. They are scheduled in July and there was absolutely no correlation to the time of the meeting taking place in the morning and agenda items. We are well aware of the law which is exactly why we did what we did. It would seem that the union is not completely clear about what bargaining law we violated. It is a shame that anyone would think we are bargaining in “bad faith.” This statement is simply untrue.
In fact, if you listen to my comments at the end of the February meeting, you will hear me say that we tabled it because we sympathized with some of the concerns that the teachers had regarding the evaluation system and hope that both sides will go back and rework it. We had a meeting scheduled and set for that Thursday with the union’s bargaining team. They refused to participate. Our team showed up and waited. They did not. This is a direct violation of bargaining.
The school board has no desire to complicate the pending teacher evaluations—the issue at the heart of the disagreements. This has all been brought about because the union claims we violated bargaining, which caused us to go back and rescind the entire contract. We were under the impression that this is what they wanted. As far as we were concerned, the simplest solution was for the two parties to come back to the table and work out the memorandum of understanding that was tabled. The union knew this MOU was not permissible according to the Florida Department of Education and the new law spelling out evaluation requirements (known as Senate Bill 736). It should never have been included in the contract that was given to teachers to be ratified.
The school board does not have to rubber stamp the recommendations of the bargaining teams, including our own. Just as there is no guarantee that the teachers will ratify a contract presented to them, the same is true for the school board.
I understand the frustration. But please know there is another side of the story. I love this district and truly don’t believe anyone wins when we fight each other. We can accomplish so much more working together. We do not want to have an adversarial relationship. The challenges facing all of us are enough. We need to stick together to get through all of this. We all need to try to understand each other’s perspectives to meet in the middle and work together. Dividing us at this point will hurt everyone, especially the students.
Below is the letter that Janet Valentine., the school superintendent, sent out to district staff on behalf of the district and the school board. It outlines the timeline on this issue:
September 22, 2011 – The negotiation teams agreed to a Memorandum of Understanding that was required to be submitted to the Department of Education regarding the new teacher evaluation system. A statement was included: “No teacher in the district will receive less than “needs improvement” or “developing” on the final rating of the summative instrument during the first year (2011-2012 school year).
September 28, 2011 – I submitted the initial Memorandum of Understanding to the Department of Education in compliance with Race to the Top and Senate Bill 736.
October 10, 2011 – A response was received by the district from the DOE that stated, “the evaluation system does not utilize the four performance categories required in section 1012.34, Florida Statutes. The tentative agreement/MOU you submitted indicates that only three performance categories, Highly Effective, Effective and Needs Improvement, will be utilized during the 2011-2012 school year.” We were directed to provide additional information to address the concern.
November 10, 2011 – The negotiation teams met and in reaction to the response from DOE agreed to remove the language regarding the unsatisfactory rating from the initial Race to the Top MOU. The original MOU scratched out this language and was signed by union leadership and the district. FCEA leadership continued to have concerns about the new evaluation resulting in a possible unsatisfactory rating and the team determined that a separate “hold-harmless” agreement would be made so that no teacher in the district would receive an unsatisfactory rating solely based on the new tool. The district’s negotiating team was sensitive to the fact that this was a new system and wanted to do whatever was necessary to assist in reducing the anxiety of our teaching staff. Thus they signed a “hold harmless” MOU that would not allow for an unsatisfactory rating.
January 31, 2012 – The Union presented the contract with the MOU containing language not allowed by DOE or contained in SB736. This was ratified by the union membership. Union leadership was notified that this should not have been included with the contract that went to its membership and it was never the intention to put that forward to the board. Leadership responded that it was too late that the package as a whole that went to their membership is exactly what has to go before the board.
February 21, 2012 – At a regularly scheduled Flagler County School Board meeting, the board voted to approve the contract, but tabled the “hold harmless” MOU which was in direct conflict with FS 1012.34, SB 736 and the response that we had received from DOE regarding our evaluation system. The “hold harmless” MOU executed by all parties, simply put, violated state statute. School board members take an oath to uphold the law. They could not approve the “hold harmless” agreement without violating their obligations by law. The board sympathized with the concerns shared regarding the new evaluation system and agreed to “table” the item to allow for the teams to rework and bring back.
At the conclusion of the February 21, 2012 meeting Katie Hansen, president of the Flagler County Educators Association, the teachers union, advised that FCEA deemed this action to be an unfair labor practice since the union members voted on the contract and MOUs as a package. According to Chapter 447: section 447.309 Collective Bargaining; approval or rejection of any provision of a collective bargaining agreement that is in conflict with any law over which the chief executive officer has no amendatory power.
Until such amendment is enacted or adopted, the conflicting provision of the collective bargaining agreement shall not be effective. This provision prohibited the board from approving the MOU that was presented by the union. Again, the board tabled the MOU for discussion. They did not vote it down. They tabled it so the two sides could come together on language acceptable to DOE and SB 736.
We were scheduled to meet that week with union leadership. They notified us that they would not be attending and would be filling an unfair labor practice. We told them we would be there and hoped that they would continue discussions. They did not show.
March 6, 2012 – At a regularly scheduled board meeting, the board voted to rescind their previous vote that included tabling the MOU and moved to vote on the contract in its entirety. The decision to revisit the vote was based on the concerns raised by FCEA that we had bifurcated the contract. We would not have taken action at the last board meeting if the union had not raised this concern. (The Board meeting was a daytime meeting scheduled as such since July 2011, long before the issue arose.)
Please remember that when union representatives negotiate with the district there is no guarantee that membership is going to ratify the proposal agreed to; likewise when the district’s negotiating team goes to the table they cannot guarantee that the board will ratify what they believe to be in the district’s interest.
This is why the procedure is as follows:
(1) Union representatives meet with district representatives to propose solutions to concerns raised by the prior agreement.
(2) The contract language is then placed before the union membership for approval.
(3) It is then placed before the school board for approval.
(4) If either side does not agree to the proposed recommendations then the parties go back to the table to negotiate the matter.
It is the school board’s hope that the teams will go back to the table to resolve this matter so that the 2011-2012 contract and any MOU’s can be ratified by all concerned. The two sides are scheduled to meet next week.
All of this has come about because both negotiating teams were trying to make sure no one was negatively affected by the new evaluation system. These are difficult times. Changes mandated by legislation are sometimes putting us at odds between compliance and what we deem best practice. We do not wish to create an Us vs. Them scenario. It is our desire to work together, being adversarial helps no one, especially the children. We have an obligation to uphold the law, protect our staff and do whatever is in the best interest of our students.
We look forward to working together.
Colleen Conklin represents District 2 on the Flagler County School Board. Janet Valentine has been the school superintendent since 2010.