Thompson Stands Up for Change

Some famous guy at some point in history once said that the hardest part of any effort is taking the first step. How right he was. Even at the tender age of five, I can tell you that it’s hard to do big, scary, important stuff. But you don’t need to take my word for it. Just ask the Thompson Board of Education!

Reform-minded members of Thompson’s school board took a really big first step last night when they shot down the tentative agreement coming out of the district’s months-long union negotiation process. You probably remember our discussion of that agreement a couple of weeks ago. If not, this piece by my friend Ross Izard should catch you up. The short version is this: The “new” contract stunk.

Faced with the prospect of having to sign the aforementioned stinky contract, Thompson’s reformers took a brave stand and refused to act as a rubber stamp for the union or district bureaucrats. The board members did a great job of articulating their points, and they made a whole lot of good sense to me. The big items that emerged as sticking points are below:

  • Failure to address special union access to district communications and facilities
  • Failure to create an actual pay-for-performance pilot program that would allow the district to begin working toward a smarter, more modern compensation system
  • Failure to revisit the extremely heavy pension burden the district carries with relatively little help from the teachers who stand to receive the benefits
  • Failure to provide more flexibility for the district by moving items to a handbook where they wouldn’t need to be negotiated
  • The expanded use of 2+2 negotiation meetings that are closed to the public
  • Inadequate instructional time due to the proposed contractual calendar

Despite repeated assertions to the contrary, these issues most certainly have been raised during the negotiation process. The first four were moved forward by consensus at the April 1 meeting (you can watch that video here, start at 120 minutes). The 2+2 expansion came out of the blue as far as I can tell, and the instructional time piece has been a focal point for the board for as long as I’ve been watching them. There are also a great many other points that have been raised throughout the process and cast aside by negotiators.

The establishment-minded folks were obviously not happy. There was an awful lot of yelling both behind the scenes and into the microphone. Insults were hurled, venom was spewed, and one board member even went so far as to angrily shout that her constitutional free speech rights were being violated when Board President Bob Kerrigan held her to Robert’s Rules of Order.  Somewhat ironically, outbursts like these are precisely why Robert’s Rules of Order exist in the first place.

The vote on the tentative agreement was followed by mournful cries that the board had not provided specific enough guidance. That’s slightly amusing given the establishment folks’ herculean (and dishonest) efforts to block any attempt to provide that guidance in an easily interpretable written document. What’s that old saying about hindsight being 20/20?

So what happens next? Well, negotiations are set to wrap up on May 15 unless both sides agree to an extension. If the negotiating team can’t bring the board something new that the board can agree to, the contract will expire. The current contract will remain in force through June 30, at which point the district would continue on without an MOU.

Much fear mongering and rhetoric will be tossed around by the three establishment board members and their allies, including the union, in the coming days. Things will get even uglier than folks anticipated after CEA stepped into the conversation. Here’s hoping the negotiating teams finally do some real work and bring back a reasonable document. If they don’t, here’s hoping the board majority sticks to its (metaphorical) guns.