More than 40 members of Madison Teachers Inc. attended Tuesday’s board meeting, and executive director John Matthews delivered a letter reminding the board that changes in state law “did not take away the board’s ability to engage in conversation about” benefits and work rules.
Board vice president Marj Passman said she preferred a process where management and employees work out their differences.
“I don’t care what the governor wants,” Passman said. “I’d like to go back to the two equal body process.”
Board member Arlene Silveira said several districts included teachers on the committees that developed their handbooks and “having staff input right upfront prevents difficult ways of getting there.” She also suggested having a board member present at each meeting.
Prior to the meeting, School Board President James Howard said the work group is for administrators so it doesn’t need to include teachers. There will be other advisory groups that will include their input, he said.
“The kids are delighted to be back at school,” James Howard said as he addressed the Board and numerous spectators at tonight’s Board of Education Workshop. Everyone nodded their heads in agreement, while they anxiously awaited the real topic of conversation. This would be the Board’s first public conversation on the Madison Metropolitan School District (MMSD) Employee Handbook, a handbook that would replace more than sixty years of collective bargaining.
As Howard spoke, I surveyed the crowd that had gathered in the McDaniels Auditorium at the Doyle Administration Building. Madison Teachers Inc. (MTI) members stood out in their red, Union T-shirts. They made up more than half of the audience. The AFSCME members were dressed in green, representing custodial, maintenance and food service workers in the district. MMSD administrators, community members and a County Board member were also present.
There was some Pollyannaish talk that the “Guiding Principles” in the process document — especially the first two “1. Improve student learning. As in everything we do, the first question and the top priority is student learning. How does what we are considering impact students? 2. Empower staff to do their best work. How does this impact teachers and staff? Does it help or hinder them in doing their jobs effectively?” — would be sufficient (a little more below on this), but there seemed to be a consensus that at very least the committee should present some options to the Board. That’s another reason to have an inclusive committee; to get better options.
A quick aside on the “Guiding Principals” and related thoughts and then back to the Board’s role. It is all well and good to say that student learning is or should be primary in just about everything, but it is also false and serves to marginalize staff. I’ve long said that the interests of teachers align with the interests of students and the district by about 95% and yes “student learning” is the prime interest. But staff are adults, with mortgages, families to support, loans to pay, relationships to cultivate and maintain, …They are not and should not be people who put student learning above the their own well being. To even contemplate that they should be is disrespectful. That’s why we hear the “All about the students” meme from the anti-teacher/anti-union reform crowd. It sound good, but it is wrong. Think about it, did the people negotiating a contract on behalf of Interim Superintendent Belmore put “student learning at the top of their list? Of course not, and they shouldn’t have.