Posts Tagged ‘arbitration’

Another Arbitration Win

January 3, 2011

In addition to the arbitration mentioned previously (see Caseload Arbitration, Dec. 6), KEA also prevailed in another arbitration hearing, this one over when KEA Reps could hold meetings in their respective buildings.  KSD, under the watchful eye of Larry Miner, past HR Director, asserted that such meetings could not be held during the work day, including the thirty minutes before and after the school day.  KEA felt that the contract language was clear when it stated, “Representatives duly authorized by the Association shall be permitted to transact official Association business on school property at all reasonable times, provided that this shall not interfere with or interrupt normal school operations.”  (Article III; Section 2)  KEA filed a grievance which was denied by the district and then took the next step of advancing the matter to arbitration.

After hearing evidence from both sides, the arbitrator sustained the grievance and ordered the district to:

  1.  Provide written notice to KEA, withdrawing the demand for approval of meetings at the assistant superintendent level.
  2. Notify building principals and supervisory personnel that KEA is entitled to hold union meetings at all reasonable times that do not interfere with or interrupt normal school operations, including the periods before and after the student day.
  3. Notify building principals and supervisory personnel that while their approval is not necessary for the union to hold a meeting, they are entitled to notice a least one full school day in advance and may suggest a more appropriate time if they believe the meeting would interrupt normal school operations.

The district had tried to assert that their actions were consistent with the WAC (Washington Administrative Code, or state law) which controlled what has been referred to for years as “WAC time.”  Sadly for the district, the legislature repealed that aspect of the WAC in 2006, as the district should have known.  This decision clearly affirms the contract language that union meetings may be held during the thirty minutes before and after the student day (or at any other time, provided there is no interference with normal school operations).  In addition, there is no requirement that KEA inform building administrators of the content of these meetings, nor may the administrator refuse to allow a meeting.

The district did not agree with the decision and asked the arbitrator for reconsideration. The arbitrator declined reconsideration and the decision stands reaffirming KEA’s right.

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2/22/2010 KEA Links: District Ignores New Contract

March 8, 2010

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!

2/24/2010 KEA Links: Evaluation Goal-Setting Form Finally Resolved

March 8, 2010

It began in the fall of 2008 with a few reports from KEA building reps about a variety of new forms being used for setting annual evaluation goals.  Now, after several months of grinding through the grievance process, a successful arbitration hearing, and a few months of post-arbitration bargaining, the district has been compelled to only use a set of forms that comply with the KEA/KSD contract.  Despite its rhetoric about “partnership,” the district dragged its heels and created unnecessary delays at every possible turn, as it resisted living up to its contractual agreements.

 Administrators Had Created New Evaluation Criteria

At the core of the issue were a series of evaluation goal forms—  different from any found in the contract, different from those used at other schools in the district, and sometimes different than those used right down the hall.  Some of these were just variations on a common theme, while others linked teacher goals directly to student WASL scores, the school motto, or a variety of criteria foreign to the contract.   Teachers were often forced to adopt these goals without an opportunity for meaningful discussion or to come to an agreement on goals. 

 Successful Arbitration

KEA insisted that the district return to the language of the contract, allow teachers the opportunity to develop and discuss their goals, and only if no agreement is reached, to assign goals only from the CAM rubric.  This is what the contract says is to happen (Article VIII, Section 2).  The district denied the grievance at superintendent level, and the Association insisted on taking the matter to arbitration.  The arbitration hearing was held in early October 2009, briefs were filed by both parties (the district’s was late, of course), and the arbitrator decided in December that the district was wrong and that they would have to cease using their made up forms.

 Development of New Forms (and more district stalling)

The arbitrator’s decision also directed the district to negotiate goal setting forms with KEA that would comply with the contract.  This, too, resulted in more stalling by the district.  KEA President Lisa Brackin Johnson and UniServ Rep Mike McNett met with a roomful of district administrators on January 4, 2010 to discuss forms.  The discussion was cordial and the district promised to send new drafts to KEA.  Several weeks passed and the district sent nothing.  KEA prompted the district to send the drafts, but the district continued to delay.  If the parties could not reach an agreement, the arbitrator had retained jurisdiction for 70 days and was ready at that time to decide which forms would be appropriate.  On the 69th day, a Friday, KEA sent forms of its own to the district, having still not received the promised drafts.  The district sent its forms to KEA later that afternoon, and KEA quickly made revisions and sent them back.  The Association then sent a copy of this to the arbitrator for a decision, having not reached an agreement within the set time frame.  True to form, the district’s general counsel Chuck Lind requested an extension.  70 days was not enough for him, apparently, even though the parties were already almost a year and a half into the grievance process.  The next week, an agreement was reached.  The district had made one change from the forms KEA returned to them on Friday—they dropped an “or” from an “and/or.”  The issue is now resolved, “just” 16 months after the union objected to this violation of the contract.

 New Forms Available Soon!

The new forms are now available to principals and through the KEA website (http://www.kentea.org/members/contract.html).  They will be in use for the remainder of this year, and in the future until such time, if ever, that KEA and the district agree to change them.  The forms include a goal setting form for the CAM, a goal setting form for the PGP, and a mid-year reflection form.  These are to replace the hodge podge of documents that administrators have invented on the basis of their own flashes of creative inspiration.

 How Does This Affect Your Current Goals?

How would you like it to affect your goals?  If your goals were developed through mutual agreement, then they can just be pasted into the new form or stapled to it.  You won’t need to start over from scratch.  If you and your assessor were unable to reach an agreement, and you were therefore assigned a set of goals, then these goals must be directly from the criteria in the contract (see the CAM rubric Exhibit L, or a subsequent exhibit for non-classroom positions).  If you were assigned one or more goals by your administrator, through the use of a goal form or by other means, and if that goal or goals are not directly from the contract, then you can use the new form to develop new goals.

 Principal Training

In a positive step, the district has agreed to provide training for principals and assistant principals in the correct use of the new forms and the goal setting process.  This training is scheduled for March 4th, after which the new forms will begin to be used.  KEA welcomes this step and hope it leads to a smooth and contractually correct use of the new documents.  If it doesn’t, let your building rep know right away.

What’s Next For KEA?

January 26, 2010
  • KEA is currently working on a Class Size/Case Load Grievance.  Since the new contract was adopted, KEA has repeatedly requested information from the district, only to have inaccurate or inadequate information provided.  KEA’s own investigation discovered that there has not been the promised overload help for SPED and ELL, that there is not the base level of para-educator support, and much more.  In fact, one ELL teacher at Panther Lake currently has 217 students on her roster, while the contract calls for a ratio of 1 ELL teacher for every 90 students.  Rather than lower her class sizes by hiring more teachers, the district instead provided 60 hours of daily para-educator time!  The district has also failed in many schools to provide Special Ed teachers with the base para time required by the new contract, or to determine how those hours can best be used.  KEA believes that the district is not trying to live up the contract in this regard in any reasonable way. 
  • Two additional arbitrations are upcoming.  One is related to last Spring’s layoffs/RIF’s, while the other is related to an issue with a teacher evaluation at Kentlake.  Both are currently at the stage in the process of selecting an arbitrator.   A decision in either is not expected for a few months.
  • Daniel Elementary has the dubious distinction of having 5 grievances filed about the same issue over the past 3 years.  It seems that when Daniel Elementary’s teachers send students to the Principal’s Office for serious behavior issues, the principal often sends the students right back to the teacher.  This goes against teacher rights under Article IV of the contract, district policy, and state law.  KEA had filed 3 previous grievances over this issue in the past.  Two were settled with a written agreement that said the Principal would stop doing this, and a third was otherwise resolved.  Now KEA has filed two additional grievances over new occurrences of the same issue!  It seems that some people never learn.  One wonders what would happen to a teacher who was disciplined five times for the same infraction?

What is KEA doing for you?

January 17, 2010

So, the strike has been over for a few months now, and everyone is back in their rooms.  After hearing so much from KEA before and during the strike, it has been pretty quiet recently.  As a result, you might be asking, “What has KEA been doing for me lately?”  The answer is, more than we can put in this blog entry!   Expect regular updates in the next few weeks.

KEA Wins Another Arbitration, KSD Weeps Gently

In the process of enforcing the contract, KEA has been forced on several occasions to file grievances about various violations of the contract.  Currently, Lisa, Mike, and Temple have about 20 they are working on!  Sometimes, when the initial steps of the grievance process cannot resolve the problem, KEA is forced to request an arbitration hearing to settle an issue.  In this case, a neutral arbitrator is selected to hold a formal hearing and rule on the matter.  KEA had already won two previous arbitrations in 2008 over the issues of seniority and an involuntary transfer, as well as the district’s overreliance on subcontracting through outside private agencies to hire teachers.  Yet another arbitration was decided in December.

At issue in this arbitration was the professional goal setting forms that were being used throughout the district in relation to our formal evaluations as teachers and certificated staff.  Depending on which building you worked at or which administrator was your evaluating supervisor, you may have seen any of several different forms.  These many different forms had been created across the district by various administrators, but were not included in the contract.  Additionally, some administrators in the district went so far as to assign the professional goals of teachers without their input, and tie teachers’ evaluation goals to their students’ test scores or to the buildings SIP plan!  At one elementary, the principal wrote on a Special Ed. Teacher’s goal sheet that 80% of their students would meet standard on the Reading WASL!  Obviously this was in violation of our contract and the spirit of our professional goals, but the district refused to acknowledge this fact.

While the district claimed it had the right to do this as part of their rights as management, KEA argued that the forms violated the contract.  (Article VIII of the contract)  Specifically, the District argued that there was a relationship between student test scores, the SIP plan, and the CAM (Certificated Assessment Model).  KEA’s own Mike McNett, however, argued that the forms went against the whole idea of a teacher setting professional goals based upon their own personal reflection through a collaborative process.  McNett also stated that teacher evaluations should be based on the professional practice of the educator and the extensive evaluative criteria already negotiated into the contract (CAM rubrics), not on student performance.  According to the contract, test scores are used appropriately when they are used by teachers for planning and preparation, not to determine whether a teacher is being effective or not.   We all know that teaching is about more than test scores…

The end result:  KEA won!  The arbitrator noted in his decision in favor or KEA that the Kent School District cannot continue, “unilaterally adopting goals and criteria,” that it wants without bargaining.  Instead, the arbitrator said the evaluation process must be conducted in a way that allows for, “uniformity, equity, and objective assessment throughout the District.”  So when the district invented different forms in each building that were not in the original contract, it went against the contract’s provisions for equal assessment criteria throughout the district.  The ruling went on to say that some teachers were, “inappropriately guided in the selection of their goals,” by their supervising administrators.  KEA was pleased with the result, to say the least.   Once again it was shown that the district’s administration continues to erroneously claim power over KEA members that is not a part of our contract. 

So now that the decision is in, what’s next? The arbitrator ordered KSD to immediately stop using any forms not currently in the contract, and told both parties to go back to the bargaining table to settle the issue of which forms would be used in future goal setting conferences.  Since that time, both sides met in a bargaining session that Lisa and Mike described as, “surprisingly pleasant.”  The proposed changes that KEA brought to the table were largely accepted, with only a few suggestions by the District for minor changes.   KEA will let you know how this might affect you as more info is available.  Talk to your Building Rep if you have questions.

It still seems amazing to many of us that the district truly believed that it could dictate our goals to us, and base them on student scores rather than on the criteria in the contract.  Once again, the district continues to downplay the professionalism of its employees.  KEA maintains that when any KEA member sits down with their supervisor, it should be in a spirit of collaboration, rather than an exercise in dictatorial top-down management in violation of the terms of our contract.  Let’s hope that this arbitration decision will help the district see that it is better to work with KEA’s members than against them!