Teachers search for equal voice

Sami Pathan

The Columbia School Board is searching for a new collective bargaining agreement, which would permit teachers to negotiate terms of employment, such as giving teachers say in the number of hours they work, salary, working conditions and other contract stipulations.
In September School board members suggested to the Board of Education that they create a policy on their own that would effectively discuss the issues surrounding collective bargaining for teachers.
“Much of this is related to Missouri State law and the Missouri State Constitution. The district will hire an attorney to assist in the writing of the policies,” Jonathan Sessions, a Columbia Board of Education member, wrote in an email interview. “Then the Board of Education’s Policy Committee will make the recommendation to the Board for approval.”
The school board has been considering two other collective bargaining options, HH and HA, before Board members suggested creating their own. HH would allow teachers to request exclusive representative, such as a teacher’s association, to bargain with administrators, or multiple representatives to collectively bargain with administrators. HA would create legal ground rules for districts to negotiate with employee associations.
“Both of the policies, HA and HH, were written by the Missouri School Board Association. MSBA assists school districts with policy. However they try to write one policy that covers all 500+ school districts in the state,” Sessions wrote. “While often this is not an issue, sometimes these policies don’t perfectly apply to all school districts. While other districts might find these policies work for them, the Board of Education felt we could craft our own to better suit to our needs and values.”
The board followed through and wrote a new policy. However, Oct. 10 the school board voted 6-1 in favor of sending the policies back for review.
“We are referring the policy back to our Policy Committee after the proposed Policy HH, Version 1 was voted down by the board on Oct. 10,” school board member Jan Mees said. “The policy committee will be working with outside legal counsel to ensure we have all our t’s crossed and our i’s dotted with a policy that best reflects Columbia Public Schools.”
Before 2007 teachers in Missouri did not have the right to bargain collectively with a representative of their choice for contract negotiations. But a Missouri Supreme Court ruling that year upheld Article 1, Section 29 of the Missouri constitution, which allows public employees to bargain.
To Sessions, the legislature passed the law without any guidelines, making it difficult for school districts to follow a path that did not lead to legal issues.
“This is something that needed to be addressed in 2007 after the Missouri Supreme Court case, but wasn’t because it was expected that the Missouri State Legislators would do their jobs, [but] they didn’t,” Sessions said. “Now it’s the responsibility of the over 500 school districts in Missouri to deal with independently.”
RBHS teacher Jennifer Black-Cone, believes teachers should have an equal say in their contracts.
“For some reason we didn’t have that say. So basically we are at the mercy of what the Board office decides to do with us. My contract is one page, one little page, and it basically says that whatever they want to do with me they can do,” Black-Cone said. “But with collective bargaining what we want is exclusive representation and what that means is that we would have one organization that is going to represent all certified staff.”
Board members hope to choose a policy and the have the issue finally settled within this school year. Changes will only affect the teachers who choose to use the policy, Mees said.
“Impact on faculty will be most obvious … since the intent of collective bargaining is for employees to have voices heard and exhibit more control over contract,” Mees said. “But the National Education Association has issued reports that [collective bargaining] positively impacts student achievement too.”
By Sami Pathan
additional reporting by Sonya Francis