Tuesday, November 1, 2011

ST LOUIS SCHOOLS WATCH - NOV 1, 2011 (slswatch@yahoo.com)

St. Louis Schools Watch

SAB Approves Labor Contract In Spite Of Teachers' Objections
By Susan Turk
St. Louis--October 11, 2011-- Local 420 President Mary Armstrong addressed the Special Administrative Board during the public comments segment at their Tuesday, October 11 meeting. She reported that on Sunday, October 9, AFT Local 420 members voted to reject the last and final policy statement, aka contract, they and Dr. Adams offered.   The members then voted unanimously to ask the SAB to submit contract negotiations to federal mediation.   Approximately 100 Local 420 members stood in solidarity while she spoke.
Armstrong continued by listing the numerous projects on which Local 420 had collaborated with district administration since the SAB was appointed to improve the SLPS; among them developing a plan for evaluating and mentoring probationary teachers and the expansion of pre-k classrooms.   She reminded the SAB that the last policy statement to which 420 agreed in 2008 included sacrifices on the part of teachers and staff; no raises and several furlough days each year to help the fiscal situation.  
She said, "We must be treated with respect and that respect includes just and fair compensation….the district's policy agreement has loopholes big enough to drive a school bus through."   She said they "found irregularities in the the board's adopted budget, specifically that there were 1670 teachers last year and 1666 teachers this year, only 4 less, but a $4.5 million difference in the budget for them."   She noted that during the negotiations she asked questions about this and was told she would get answers.  The questions were never answered, however. They were given a last and final offer as an ultimatum instead.  
"We advocate for this district", she said, "and we deserve just and fair compensation."   She noted that there had been no increase in the money budgeted for classrooms since 2003 and that, "We haven't complained and we have done everything asked of us to move this district towards accreditation.   It's time that those who do the work in the classroom be justly compensated."   She added that they want a third impartial party, a federal mediator, to assess the actual revenues and expenses in this budget because, "Right now we don't trust your figures, we don't trust your numbers and we don't trust that you'll treat us right."
Armstrong was followed by teachers from three different schools. Nancy Fraley from Mallinckrodt Academy said that, "Relying on teachers to do the right thing without just compensation was almost equal to abuse."   Fraley said she had only had one 3% raise in the 7 years she has worked for the SLPS. As we all know, the cost of living has risen far more than 3% during the past 7 years. She noted that some teachers are sharing housing and driving 15 year old cars to get by.   She said that given her own expenses, she could not balance her checking account on her salary.   She asked the SAB to, "do the right thing so we can live on what we're given."
Jim Heger, a 12 year veteran from Ashland Elementary School told them to keep the meager 2% raises they were offering in the contract and give Ashland back a safety officer.   Without a school safety officer, the principal is relegated to breaking up fights.   Heger reported that the neighborhood surrounding   Ashland is subject to frequent outbreaks of violence, including shootings, and that the students witness them.   He said that safety officers are needed in schools in high risk areas to create, "a palpable sense of security   that would make the teachers and children feel safer."
(It is worth note that neighborhood violence has impacted Ashland's staff during the past 2 years. Two employees have been robbed on the parking lot, the cafeteria worker and a teaching assistant.  A bullet shattered one of the music teacher's car windows during the school day.   License plate tags have been stolen from 3 different cars. So, the removal of safety officers from the elementary schools has affected the school environment.)
The last teacher to speak was Abnash Nishi Coday, a 17 year veteran from Mullanphy Investigative Learning Center.   She reminded us that teachers are there early and stay late, sometimes until 9 p.m., writing up IEPs, that they are dedicated to doing what's right.   "I am frugal", she said.   " At this point, I don't know how I am going to make it.   Everything's going up," and she mentioned food, gas, the sewer bill, utilities, and property taxes. " I honestly don't know where to go and I'm too tired to get a second job."   She asked for a raise and step movement.
With a salary of $225,000 per year, Dr. Adams is well insulated from the difficulties the teachers face trying to live on their salaries.  It should be noted that he was not given a raise to his base salary when his contract was renewed last February.
Just before the end of the meeting, the SAB voted unanimously to approve the policy statement. The vote was not listed on the meeting's consent agenda, making the decision to vote a hasty one. 
After the SAB vote, teachers were visibly upset.  Armstrong said they would hold meetings to decide how to respond, but she expected that the spirit of cooperation and collaboration that had typified the union's relationship with the administration would suffer.  Teachers might work to the letter of the contract, meaning doing nothing extra.
Because Missouri law provides for collective bargaining for public employees, there was hope expressed by some union members that they would be able to get the administration back to the negotiating table even though the three-year contract had been approved.  While under negotiations both parties are restricted from discussing the terms of the contract being negotiated; so union spokespeople were reluctant to discuss the sticking points.  It was learned that although some teachers were upset by the meager 2% raise, the disagreement was not so much over money as over the wording dealing with medical insurance benefits.  The previous policy statement had used the term "shall provide" when discussing medical insurance.  The newly approved one replaced that wording with "may provide", which could mean that the administration was reserving the right to stop paying for medical insurance at any time during the life of the contract.
Of course, the SAB, who are not accountable to anyone, can do as they please.   They don't have to worry about the wrath of voters who could replace them with board members sympathetic to the genuine needs of teachers and staff.   They can make decisions, which increase the stressful work environment in district schools, without consequence to themselves.  
25 members of Occupy St. Louis greeted teachers as they left the meeting with chants of "We Support Our Teachers" and applause.  A contingent from 420 participated in the October 14 Occupy St. Louis and Jobs for Justice march downtown.

Not the Usual Song and Dance
Given that there are only three members of the SAB which governs the SLPS, the way they conduct business if fairly routine. Seldom do they deviate from it.  The usual choreography, or orchestration, is for CEO, President and Chairman Rick Sullivan to ask for a motion, to pass the consent agenda, for instance, to which Vice President Melanie Adams responds, "So moved."   Member Richard Gaines then seconds the motion. 
But, something out of the ordinary happened at the October 11 meeting.  After the routine vote to approve consent agenda items, Sullivan said, "I have one additional motion. The motion is to approve the 2011-2014 policy statement for the AFT Local 420, the teachers, secretaries, clerical and para-professional   employees... This labor (agreement) also includes a 2 %   salary increase. I'm making a request for a motion to approve that resolution."
His request was followed by a prolonged silence. As the silence persisted. Sullivan looked at Adams but, she remained mute.  Finally, silently, she shook her head from side to side, signaling that she would not fulfill her usual role as motion maker.
Gaines then filled in with, "So Moved."  The motion was not seconded.
Sullivan then asked for, "Comments" and "Discussion."   Hearing no questions or comments the vote was called and the three members of the SAB voted to approve the motion 3-0. 
Afterward, some shocked union members speculated hopefully that the vote was illegal because the motion had not been seconded. In accordance with standard practice, if a motion is not seconded, it would normally not be discussed or voted on.  
The SAB conducts its meetings in accordance with Roberts' Rules of Order, which are based on the procedures which govern the British Parliament. This reporter consulted a handy copy.
"As a general rule,…every motion should be seconded.   This is to prevent time being consumed in considering a question that only one person favors,…Where the chair is certain the motion meets with general favor, and yet members are slow about seconding it, he may proceed without waiting for a second.   Yet anyone may make a point of order that the motion has not been seconded, and then the chair is obliged to proceed formally and call for a second." (Robert's Rules Of Order Revised, 1915, p.36)  
This being the SAB, and there being only three of them, requiring agreement between only two people to pass a motion, there is seldom mystery regarding the outcomes of votes.   So, apparently, seconds are unnecessary.
There was also grumbling about the resolution to approve the contract not being on the consent agenda.  When the board of education ran the district, they always set the consent agenda at a public administrative meeting held one week prior to their business meeting.  They did this so members could receive all materials concerning the items to be considered at least 5 days prior to having to vote to give them adequate time for review.  If items were added after the 5 day period, the board president and superintendent could postpone a vote.  If a matter was deemed to be an emergency item requiring a expeditious vote, a motion would be made to add the item to the evening's agenda for a vote.  This was done to prevent something being rushed through without giving members adequate time to study and think about what they were voting on.
For whatever reason, and even though Ms. Adams did not want to make the motion, the other two SAB members were ready to vote and pass the contract on the 11th. 
SAB members have been vocal in their criticism of the elected Board of Education.  SAB members have called it dysfunctional. Richard Gaines remarked that the board had "run amok" at a recent meeting.
No deliberative body is without its critics.  As far as the SAB is concerned, criticism could be levied about the unnecessary alacrity with which they pushed through a controversial vote.
Since Missouri state law gives public employees the right to collective bargaining, it is unusual for a governing body to impose a labor agreement.  During the negotiations three years ago for the prior policy statement, the union rejected the last best offer and the administration came back with another offer which was acceptable.  As a consequence, the hard ball response this year came as a shock.  Hope was expressed that the administration would return to the negotiating table even after the SAB's vote to approve but there is no incentive for them to do so.  At this point in time, the situation is unresolved.

Custodians Back In-House
After 8 years of being outsourced, SLPS custodians are being brought back in house. Unfortunately for them, they are being brought back in for the same reason they were outsourced, to save money. Where they were being paid $18/hour for 12 months of work, they will now be paid $14/hour for only 11 months of work, effectively cutting their pay from  approximately $37,000/year to about $26,000. The over the summer thorough cleaning they used to do will still be outsourced.
They were forced to reapply for their jobs,   but there are 34 fewer positions and they are not being credited towards their pensions for the years they worked for Sodexho and Aramark.   Instead of having a head custodian at every building, there will only be 16 head custodians throughout the district.   In the buildings without head custodians, their supervision will likely become an additional burden for the building principal.   There may only be 2 custodians assigned to schools which had 3 and their shifts may not coincide.   There may be only one in the building during school and one working after school.
So, if you notice that your school is not as clean as it used to be, understand that there may not be enough staff to keep it clean and that morale among the custodians is at an all-time low.  Grounds works will still be outsourced, though.
There was a time when being a custodian in the SLPS meant earning enough to support a family.  That no longer appears to be the case.  Consistent with the contract recently imposed on teachers, secretaries, clerical and para-professional employees, the quality of life for SLPS employees is eroding.  This will impact the atmosphere in our schools and the quality of education the children receive.
City voters have typically been generous to the SLPS, voting to pass every bond issue put to them in recent years.  Were citizens given a say in these decisions to squeeze district employees, it is questionable as to whether the community would support them. 
Given the impetus to improve academic achievementin order to regain accreditation, one wonders how the administration proposes to makes those gains with a stressed and aggravated work force.

Film Screening and Discussion of:
The Inconvenient Truth Behind Waiting for Superman
When: Sunday Nov. 6 at 3:00p.m.
Where: Gya Community Gallery ( 2700 Locust Ave., St. Louis )
Details Please join us for a film screening and discussion of "The Inconvenient Truth Behind Waiting for Superman. This documentary points out what the movie "Waiting for Superman" does not- the complexity of issues surrounding educational reform. The Inconvenient Truth Behind Waiting for Superman showcases the perspectives of teachers engaged in the life of public schools and what is needed to provide quality education. This film includes the evidence that its predecessor leaves out- the number of failing charter schools, how charter schools exclude students, how charter schools are at the center of the efforts to privatize public education- and many other inconvenient truths. Join us for this event where we will watch and discuss the film and plan future actions.
This film was made by New York city teachers.  It is the antidote to "Waiting For Superman" and should be seen by everyone concerned about public schools.  The film includes interviews with parents.  If you cannot make the showing, the Watch has copies it will lend.  Contact us at sls_watch@yahoo.com

It's That Time Again
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November 15, Tuesday, irregular bi-monthly SAB meeting, 6 p.m., 801 North 11th Street, room 108
November 15, Tuesday, regular monthly Board of Education meeting, 7 p.m., Carr Lane VPA Middle School, 1004 North Jefferson, enter from parking lot 

Please note, The Schools Watch has a new mailing address, P.O. Box 1983, St. Louis, MO 63118. Our email address continues to be SLS_Watch@yahoo.com

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