Seattle Education Association chief reacts to negotiation to reopen schools
by Ari Robin McKenna
On Friday, February 26, Seattle Public School District (SPS) leaders announced for the second time a suspected return date for a segment of its student body – although there was no agreement with the union that represents teachers and other staff, the Seattle Education Association (SEA).
On December 5, 2020, SPS Superintendent Denise Juneau caused SEA to shout when it announced a recommendation that K-1 students and moderate to intensive special education students should return in person on March 1. Later that month, the Seattle School Board unanimously voted in favor of Juneau’s ambitious reopening date, and negotiating teams began in earnest to sort out the many details involved in reaching a deal with the syndicate. Meanwhile, a vocal minority of Seattle parents have pressured the union to accept the date as a matter of course.
Then, around 5 p.m. on Friday February 26, the last day of school before the scheduled March 1 reopening date, teachers were again called into question when the headline on SPS’s website read: Pathways and Preschool Students return in person on March 11. This time, the school board voted (with Brandon Hersey the only dissenting vote) to classify staff members who work with these returning students as essential workers.
Negotiations are underway and will no doubt be influenced by Gov. Jay Inslee’s announcement yesterday that all educators, school staff and daycares will be immediately eligible for immunization as part of the vaccine rollout of the state phase 1b-1. The announcement came after the Biden administration said it expected it would have enough vaccines for all adults in the United States by the end of May and called on all educators across the country to receive at least one dose of vaccine before the end of March.
In an interview with the Emerald, SEA President Jennifer Matter said, âThey want to negotiate in the media, instead of negotiating at the table with us. Although the district did not respond to a series of questions from the emeraldSPS Media Relations Specialist Tim Robinson said: âDuring negotiations it is important that nothing is said publicly that could affect the negotiations. Regarding the announcement of the March 1 return date in December, Matter said: “[SPS] chose the earliest possible date on which they thought they could conclude [bargaining], but at the same time, they didn’t communicate it that way, so they gave the impression that it was the “deal done” date.
After the board approved Juneau’s phased plan and negotiations began in earnest, Matter says that in January, the district assured the public that it had been working on a plan for months. But SEA for its part said that when they received the proposal, it was basic. âIt was four pages and there was almost nothing written about special education,â Matter said. When SEA hesitated, SPS extended it to 13 pages and made it public for the first time at the end of January. Then, with something to work with, the teachers’ union took to the task of drafting an agreement in February with a team largely made up of teachers from their day job two days a week. They expected the district to continue working on their security proposals, and Matter says there was momentum, and compared to where they were in the summer, “we were so close to the finish line “.
Yet last week, as the district’s initial date approached (which is coincidentally the day their Office of the Superintendent of Public Education (OSPI) report on the reopening tied to federal dollars was due) Matter describes the district prematurely calling for a public employment relations commission (PERC) before the two sides found a sticking point in their negotiations. Suddenly, and without explanation, mediation became the priority, and Matter says, it was used by SPS as “a signal to everyone outside of the negotiation as a sign that we are not working with them, or that we had hit a sticking point and were stuck, when the real problem was that they weren’t working with us.
Matter went further, saying that while SPS played games in the media, at the negotiating table, it did not produce. âI want people to understand,â said Matter, âthe SEA bargaining team did all the work for the district. The district can claim to have prepared and prepared all of this. We did not see him at the bargaining table. Instead, we did the job they should have done over the past few months, regardless of the number of months, by crafting the wording of the agreement that outlines the workload expectations, in more health and safety. â¦ We do their job. At this point, although it bothers us greatly to have to do the work the district is paid full time for, we will do it because, of course, we want to go back to the classroom to serve students. “
After Friday news that some of their teachers have been declared essential workers by the district in order to bypass negotiations, the union filed three complaints of unfair labor practices with the state PERC. Matter also posted this video repeatedly detailing that Juneau and SPS human resources director Clover Codd have expressed the need to negotiate an in-person return for students. In one section, at a school board meeting on September 23, Codd said, âIf the school board votes to approve an in-person approach or some kind of hybrid approach, we will have to come back with SEA to negotiate any changes. of this decision on their working conditions.
The district bargaining team has in the past been led by someone whose title included “workers” or “negotiator,” but this time Codd appears to be leading the district approach. Prior to her, Sheryl Anderson-Moore led – or co-led with Codd – numerous negotiations under the title of âChief Negotiatorâ, âSenior Negotiatorâ or âLabor Relationsâ. Codd, a 10-year district veteran, has risen through the district ranks and appears to have a growing influence. When asked if the district had reorganized its bargaining team, the district did not respond at time of posting.
From SEA’s perspective, Matter said, âThe SPS leaders who are at the negotiating table, I’m afraid they are keeping information from the school board. â¦ You have the superintendent who has one foot, if not both feet, out. â¦ I think we faced a lot of challenges because they didn’t hire anyone to be their chief negotiator. “
Ari Robin McKenna worked as an educator and program developer in Brooklyn, NY; Douala, Cameroon; Busan, South Korea; Quito, Ecuador; and Seattle, WA before moving to South Seattle. He writes about education for the emerald. Contact him here.
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