In our school system, much of what is criticized about school operations is the fruit of collective bargaining, not state or federal mandates.
Collective bargaining decides what constitutes “cause” for removing bad actors or ineffective educators. These agreements define the school year and school day and explain the explosion of half days and shortened school years. Teacher evaluations which find all teachers above average are crafted in union contracts. The fact that the most experienced teachers get to choose to work in the most affluent schools is decided in collective bargaining. The service expectations for teachers and even the ability of parents to visit schools are defined in the bargaining agreement.
Issaquah school district drew attention to the critical issues affecting district families by reviewing an extensive “Community Values Survey” with the union representatives in an open meeting before beginning collective bargaining.
The survey was conducted by the area Parent Teacher Student Association, and asked questions related to services, concerns and district practices. Nearly 1,000 parents responded and offered thoughts about issues ranging from how time is used to how well graduates are prepared.
The results are not surprising–parents want great service. The calendar practices which cheat students out of their teachers’ time were overwhelmingly opposed by families. The practices of staff and service deployment that create inequity are opposed. Families favor more education options like vocational or non-college preparation.
For Directors to recognize the true client of the school district and seek their guidance about services is a best practice. Rather than wait for the Parent Teacher Student Association to do it, district leaders should initiate such a survey.
Why it matters
Between now and the start of the next school year, many school boards will be negotiating with a private organization which represents employees in secret meetings to decide the service levels, accountability measures and spending priorities for the school district. Approaching those negotiations armed with community priorities will make it easier for the public interest to prevail over the self-interests of union officials and the employees they represent.
Since most communities are not invited to express their values, most district leaders negotiate with only one perspective’s priorities in mind. This perhaps explains why calendars serve employees rather than students or families, why levies are spent to a growing degree on perks for employees rather than services for students, and why accountability for poor service is weak or absent.
Ask your school board whether they use this practice of learning their clients’ priorities before entering collective bargaining negotiations. Their contact information is here.
See the results of the Issaquah community values survey here.
Newspaper coverage here.