Report to school board stresses collaboration
By RACHEL coleman
• Leader & Times
The school year has reached the countdown point, where students and teachers alike anticipate summer’s arrival. But it’s not all about a break from academics, Liberal NEA (National Education Association) president Grant Mathews reminded the USD 480 school board at last week’s meeting. Teacher contract bargaining is just around the corner.
Next year, Mathews said, the LNEA hopes for something more cordial than the wrangling and impasses of previous negotiations.
“Interest-based bargaining is the path we’d like to try,” he said. “Instead of exchanging offers, there’s more of a group effort with the LNEA, board members and administrators sitting around the table to lay everything out, share ideas and talk about what the true interests are of those three parties.”
Mathews said he’s already started discussions about insurance options with Superintendent of Schools Lance Stout and finance director Jerry Clay, in hopes of establishing a new model for decision-making.
“We’d like to give (interest-based bargaining) a kind of trial run, sit down and discuss the different options and see what’s best for us, with better coverage and hopefully lower premiums,” Mathews said. The insurance decision will be coming up soon, he noted, and he described his request as a “heads-up so you can think about who you’d like to have involved.”
Looking further down the road, Mathews told the board LNEA met with out-of-town training representatives who would be willing to provide training in the new model of contract negotiations for board members, administration and teachers at no charge. Mathews recommended the district cast a wider net to involve the entire board and more teachers, rather than limiting the training to the small teams that bargain.
“The more people that get trained and have information about the process, the more buy-in we’ll have,” he said.
Board members Reid Petty, Cheryl Louderback and Dan Diepenbrock quizzed Mathews about various aspects of his report, which included a summary of teacher concerns and morale.
While he conveyed several complaints, Mathews acknowledged that the feedback can be a bit one-sided.
“People don’t necessarily come to me when they’re having a good day and they like the decisions that have been made,” he said. Nonetheless, as LNEA representative, he said he wanted to keep the board up to date on the general mood among the district’s teachers.
When he arrived on the board eight years ago and saw the agenda item “LNEA report,” Diepenbrock said, “this is what I envisioned — you coming to us, talking to the board about the concerns of the union — and this is the first time it’s happened.” While he did not agree wholly with the LNEA perspective about some of the issues, “I applaud you for the time it took to prepare the report. I think you’re doing a great job communicating with the board, the administration, and the teachers and I congratulate you,” he told Mathews.