DISTRICT IGNORES NEW CONTRACT
Class size and caseload were cornerstone issues in bargaining, and gained national and international attention during the KEA strike last fall. Considerable progress was made on these issues, and Association members looked forward to being able to better serve students as a result. It quickly became evident, however, that the district had no intention of keeping their word, honoring the contract, and meeting the needs of staff and children.
Within three weeks of the ratification of the new contract and the end of the strike, reports started coming in from various KEA Reps that there was no sign of implementation of the new caseload language in Special Ed and ELL classes. It also quickly became clear that the district had not posted enough openings for teachers and paras in order to provide adequate staffing to fulfill the terms of the new contract. KEA requested caseload and para support data from the district on October 9th, and met considerable resistance. KEA has reiterated the request several times over the weeks and months that followed.
The district began sending some information a month later, and though it is incomplete and not entirely accurate, it confirms that there are many unaddressed overloads, including overloads that exceed the scope discussed in bargaining. The district has refused to provide accurate comprehensive information showing whether the base level of para support has been provided to each teacher, and KEA knows that this is one of the several points at which the contract has not been fulfilled.
How bad is it? In some classes, there may just be one or two extra students, or a few too few para hours per day. In others, no para support has been provided at all. In some, more than twice the number of students has been assigned to a teacher. In three elementary schools, more than 200 students are served by just one ELL teacher, despite a contractual guideline of 1:90.
Association leaders have not been silent about the district’s disregard for the contract, our members, and students. There have been a number of meetings with upper administration. Some of these have helped to pry loose a little more data, but none have resulted in effective relief or compliance with the contract. Having found no resolution through discussion, KEA filed a grievance.
CASELOAD GRIEVANCE MOVES TO ARBITRATION
The advantage of having this new caseload language in the contract is that it can be enforced. KEA filed a grievance in late October at the level “Step 2—Superintendent.” Dr. Vargas did not participate in the meeting, and instead appointed one of his bureaucrats to act in his stead; in this case, Larry Miner was appointed to act on behalf of the non-participating superintendent. KEA presented contract language, data wrested from the district, information gathered by members and KEA Reps, and supporting logic. At the first meeting in the grievance process on November 19th, the district, represented by Chuck Lind, was unprepared to explain the district’s position, so a Step 2 Part 2 grievance meeting had to be scheduled, by which the district created further delay of almost two months. At the second meeting on January 13th, former prosecutor Lind, accompanied by Dr. Rieger and Kim Halley, offered a weak exposition of “management rights,” claiming that the administration’s decisions to deny adequate para support and to overload classes best serves the needs of students. Mr. Miner “shockingly” agreed with his fellow administrators, and sent the Association a 6-page decision which is at odds with the language of the contract, the rules of contract interpretation, and bargaining history. Mr. Miner’s decision was due on January 25th, but was not sent to the Association until February 8th.
We are now at the mid-point of the current school year, and each passing day sees students denied the support they should receive, and places an excessive burden on KEA members. KEA notified the district that it will appeal the grievance to binding arbitration, a process in which an independent neutral labor relations expert holds a formal hearing and determines whether the contract has been violated, and what should be the remedy. This process can take months to complete. There are currently seven KEA grievances awaiting arbitration hearings.
DISTRICT REFUSES EXPEDITED ARBITRATION PROCESS
The Association asked Dr. Vargas to agree to an expedited process so the matter can be resolved quickly. Larry Miner quickly informed us that Dr. Vargas does not want to use the accelerated process. This means, of course, that the district prefers to drag out the process as long as possible so that they can continue to violate the contract and avoid spending the money necessary to hire enough staff.
WHAT CAN BE DONE? – YOU CAN BE INVOLVED IN A SOLUTION!
Technical processes such as arbitration often result in contract compliance. KEA has won all three of its arbitrations over the past few years and compelled the district to honor language about involuntary transfer, contracting out our work to private agencies, and the district’s invention of goal setting forms that are contrary to the process and criteria of the contract. We are reasonably sure that we will be successful in this arbitration as well… eventually. We have a strong position, based on the new contract language, but arbitration is a slow and sometimes uncertain undertaking.
Even more effective than arbitration is the influence exercised by educators, parents, and the community. KEA members have been speaking out about this topic at school board meetings. Although one school board member recently commented that changes should not be expected overnight, KEA has been more than patient as student needs continue to go unaddressed. Requests for relief for multiple classes in overload throughout the district over a period of half of the school year are a far cry from instant change. KEA members have met with a newspaper reporter and told their stories. Information is being shared with parents and community groups. Talk with your building rep about how you can be involved to support your colleagues and your students!