Superintendent Statement Regarding UTSWC Contract Negotiations

Superintendent Statement Regarding UTSWC Contract Negotiations
Posted on 02/20/2020
833 LogoSouth Washington County Schools and the United Teachers of South Washington County (UTSWC) continue to negotiate a new employment contract that provides an increase in compensation and allows the District to effectively manage expenses and classroom resources. The current 2017-2019 teachers’ contract remains in effect until a new agreement is made.

Throughout the negotiations process, we have had professional discussions with UTSWC and worked together to come to an agreement. We understand the process has taken longer than everyone would like. Negotiating a fair contract takes time, especially with limited resources. We must balance the needs of teachers and kids. We also know that teachers deserve the best and we wish we could offer more. 

If state funding had kept pace with inflation over the past 18 years, we would have nearly $640 more per student to spend on education programs and staff. Unfortunately, we have had to make budget cuts over the years and we have been unable to restore those cuts. 

For example, on days like last Thursday and even this morning, I think about our extended two-mile walking distance for high school students in the district. We had to make those reductions to limit transportation costs. I am also concerned about our lack of additional mental health supports in our schools, the unfunded mandates for our special education and our programs for English learners (EL) and the staffing levels that we know are needed. All of these are important, and prioritizing one over the other is nearly impossible because these decisions directly impact our students. 

For now, we must balance the needs of our 10 other employee groups, our students and ensure we honor our teachers for the work they put in every day. 

We appreciated the creative solutions the union and our negotiations team came up with in December when union leadership agreed to a tentative two-year agreement that would have provided flexible workdays for teachers, increases to health care contributions and salary increases in March and July of this year. Though members narrowly voted not to approve the agreement in January, the offer was $11.5 million. This is nearly 90 percent of the new funding we will receive from the state over the next two years. The remainder of the new funding also needs to address our other employee contracts and the inflationary costs of running a district this size. On average, the tentative agreement provided an increase in total compensation of approximately $7,000 per teacher for the life of the contract. That’s a 6.75 percent increase over the next two years. This amount included an increase in steps and lanes. Teachers who qualified to receive their step increase were moved up on the salary scale in July 2019. 
Outside of the contract discussions, the district listened to our teacher’s concerns about needing more time to do their very best for students. We brought calendar changes to the board, which supported altering the elementary and secondary calendars. Elementary teachers now have assessment days prior to the start of the school year so they do not need to assess their new students while trying to start the new school year. We also added five workdays for elementary teachers this year; two days for conference preparation time and three days (one after each trimester) to complete work and prepare for the next trimester. The addition of the three workdays was also applied to the secondary calendar.

The Board approved these changes by reducing the number of instructional days teachers had with students. We want our students in class as many days as possible, but we felt we needed to find more time for teachers even if that meant reducing instructional time for students. 
In addition, during the negotiations process, we offered the opportunity for teachers to work from home on the new workdays after each trimester. For the first time, teachers would have a benefit that many other industries offer and that the District believes is an important opportunity for our educators.

Once the tentative agreement was voted down, we worked with union leadership to find new options within our budget constraints. On Feb. 11, a new proposal was put forward by union leadership and the Board will be discussing that for the first time tonight in a closed session. 

Since that proposal, we learned that union leadership encouraged teachers to begin work-to-rule which refers to only following what is in the employment contract. We welcome the contract being followed, but the implementation of work-to-rule directly impacted students during the last contract cycle.

Negotiating a contract is a process. There are legal responsibilities and official notices that often occur during contract negotiations, including my letter to union leadership regarding work-to-rule. If there is an issue in our district where I am concerned about how it could impact our students or families, I believe it is appropriate and expected that I would communicate these concerns. In no way does this process take away from the value we place on our teachers, the time they spend to help our students or the resolve they exhibit to truly reach students through personalized instruction and building strong relationships. 

We are looking forward to continuing the collaborative process we have had so far and reaching another mutually agreed-upon settlement.