Caseload Arbitration

You may not be aware of it, but we (KEA, aka, YOU), have taken several grievances that we could not solve at either the building or the superintendant level, to arbitration.  This means that we have gone before a professional arbitrator, usually a judge, and presented the case at length for that independant arbitrator to decide.  This is a lengthy process, requiring an incredible amount of documentation, witnesses for both sides and lawyers being lawyers.  The results?  So far, we are 5 and 0, meaning we have prevailed in our arguments ALL FIVE TIMES.  There are another couple of arbitrations that are in various states of argument, but we are continuing to work through these and we will let you know here about the outcomes as they come in.  We have a description below of one of those that deals with Caseload language in the contract.  Enjoy, and remember, we invite your comments on the topics presented or on any other thing that you feel needs to be discussed.

Caseload Language: Where Are We Now?

A significant piece of the 2009 bargain was the establishment of caseload language for all special education teachers and most ESAs. This was hard fought language settled in the last hours of the negotiation. Teams met and clarified the intent of the language and many proposals went back and forth to fine tune the wording.

The 2009 school year started with high hopes of providing a better learning environment for special education students, but by early October KEA leadership began hearing of a wide range of situations that violated the new language. Initial conversations with the district resulted in no changes and the violations multiplied. Some teachers still had no para time, some half time teachers had caseloads higher than many full time teachers, some full time teachers had caseloads far above the contract allowance, and while the caseloads grew and grew, fewer overload relief hours were allocated. A grievance was filed and after long meetings the district chose to deny the grievance. The KEA Executive Board and Grievance Committee then decided to pursue the issue through arbitration. Unfortunately, arbitration is not a quick process. The arbitrator heard the case in mid-October. WEA Advocacy and Grievance Specialists Mike Boyer and Mike McNett worked together to present the bargaining history and range of violations to establish KEA’s position. Final briefs have now been submitted and we (KEA leadership and members), as well as the special education students in Kent, are now waiting for the decision of the arbitrator.

Editorial Comment:

Regardless of the decision of the arbitrator, the final decision really lies in the hands of the Kent School District. Every day across the Kent school district teachers are pressed to accelerate learning of high-risk learners. Kent was already far behind many other districts across our region, state and country in establishing language that provides appropriate learning environments for special needs students. This fall many special ed. teachers have found their caseloads again increased by adding general ed. and ELL students to their instructional groups, but not counted as part of their caseload. Many special ed. students now receive “specially designed instruction” in groups of 15, 20 or even 25 students. All the while, the district Special Education Pathways document states that appropriate delivery model for special education is either small group instruction or one to one instruction. It is time for the Kent School District to fulfill its responsibility to our high needs learners. It is time for the district to provide appropriate staffing that will support teachers and ESAs in meeting the needs of all of our students.

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6 Responses to “Caseload Arbitration”

  1. Steve Says:

    Where does the KSD School Board fit into the greivance and arbitration process? Can they or do they have any input into how discrepancies between KSD and KEA are handled?

    • kenteducationassociation Says:

      The School Board doesn’t hear grievances or participate in the arbitration process at all, to the best of my knowledge, although I suppose they could be subpoenaed for testimony if it was required or relevant, and they probably could tell KSD administration that they feel there are entirely too many grievances (close to 100 in about 3 years, way more than any district anyone around these parts has ever heard of), the overwhelming majority of which have been upheld in KEA’s favor. They could say that, but they haven’t, to my knowledge. They could also encourage Administration to try to be problem solvers and stop letting things go all the way to arbitration to find solutions. They could do that, but I’m not sure they have, although we have seen a “new spirit of discussion” in and around grievances and no matter where it originates, that change is welcome. Drawing lines in the sand and butting heads is not pleasant, no matter the outcome.

  2. amoeba Says:

    Here’s a novel idea: Why doesn’t KSD train their principals on contract language? I don’t mean to find loopholes so they can manipulate and take advantage of our already overworked teachers, but to respect and honor the teachers? And by refusing to settle grievances and letting them go as far as the arbitration level, alot of taxpayer money is being used by the district to hire an outside lawyer, etc.

    If the contract has been violated, especially where the contract language is clearly stated, then just “man up” KSD, and admit that your administrators have been out of compliance!

    • kenteducationassociation Says:

      What a lovely and unique idea! Really, it is possible that is happening now, to a degree, but you must remember: Power given is rarely given back; it must be taken back. As long as a body is told that they can do whatever they wish, then they will. Only when it is made perfectly clear, most likely repeatedly and with the point of a very sharp pen at the least, will this behavior end. I look to a new day of mutual cooperation and trust, but that attitude will only adhere if we maintain our vigilance and make absolutely certain that we act when we must. It is a revolution and we must prevail. As to principals being trained on contract language, I have had principals quote (and badly misquote) contact language to me in an effort to (usually) tell me the contract does not say what it says, so there is some selective knowledge that is being held there. It again, is up to us to see that the interpretation is correct in intent and we have learned much in the past 4 or 5 years about how to go about this. Respect, too, is earned, not given. Let’s not even start talking about how KSD spends its money, unless, of course, you want to go there. At last report, the fund balance was right about where it has been for the past few years, at $19 or $20 million. Not enough to properly fund new programs, of course, but plenty enough to remodel an administration building or two. Comment if you must…

      • Confused Says:

        My rep tries to meet on a collaborate level with our principal, but our principal continues to deny violating the contract. Yes, I think it’s time for administration to take a class on collaboration and understanding contract language.

        After reading your reply to amoeba, I understand what you are saying about your principal misquoting the CBA and having “selective knowledge”; I believe that behavior falls under “looking for loopholes and using it to continue bullying teachers into submission”.

        What happens with principals that violate the contract and are found to be wrong in their behavior. Are they fired or just slapped on the wrist? If this was a teacher who stepped out of line several times, wouldn’t they be fired or disciplined? If we talk about ed reform, let’s start w/ BAD PRINCIPALS.

      • kenteducationassociation Says:

        Well, I hear some people say that they have a great principal. I don’t hear very many people say that, but I have heard it. Certainly there are great principals but, unfortunately, there are bad ones also. Principals are a product of the culture that has surrounded them and in some cases nurtured them up to this point and we can’t expect them to change overnight. That being said, there are many instances of principals going out of their way to violate the contract, to selectively enforce rules that sometimes have been arbitrarily invented, or to openly harass staff members. Untruths are common and I know of many who take credit for things they had little to do with. I don’t know what happens to principals that are regularly found to be in open violation of the contract; we are not privy to that information, but I will say that there were many principals that were moved, removed or retired at the end of last year. I think that may be an implied answer to that question. I believe that principals can be taught and that in a true collaborative scenario, they should be learning as much from us as we do from them. I am optomistic that as long as we maintain our stance that we will not stand for unprofessional behavior from them, and as we demand that we be treated like the education professionals that we are, that we can make positive changes that will enable us to be true partners in education.

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