Johnson City administrators and educators agreed that the teachers’ contract forged under the guidelines of the state’s new collaborative conferencing law is acceptable, but said the long and unwieldy process still needs some refining.
Joe Crabtree, a teacher at Indian Trail Intermediate School and the President of the Johnson City Education Association, said the memorandum of understanding approved by the board of education Monday night was largely similar to the previous contract struck under collective bargaining.
“Collaborative conferencing was meant to be very similar to what we did previously, where everyone sits around the table and we all work out the problems together, it’s not us versus them,” he said. “So that was kind of the process we went through, we took what we had done in the years previous and tried to implement that into this new process.”
Some topics previously allowed under bargaining laws however, like payroll deductions from teachers’ paychecks to organizations that perform “political activities,” were excluded from the conferencing process under the new law.
“While it was similar in many ways, there are some aspects that are different,” Crabtree said. “It’s a new process for everybody.
“The law when it was enacted was enacted very quickly — they changed it even the day they voted on it. We’ve ever since been trying to figure this thing out.”
The stepped salary schedules offering higher pay to teachers with higher levels of education are the same under the new agreement with no cost of living increases.
Crabtree said the new document does allow teachers to move all three of their personal days to be used as sick days, when in the past only two could be changed over to sick days if they weren’t used.
The contract does change some of the former hiring processes used by the district, he said.
“Almost everything that’s in there that was allowed by law, we kept,” he said.
Director of Schools Richard Bales likewise said that the two conferencing groups authored an agreement amicable to all.
“The team met and met and met some more, and I think had some good dialogue, and this is the end product they came up with,” Bales said.
“Teachers have faced a lot of changes from the legislature in the last few years,” he added. “I think they’ve embraced this process as well as anyone could. Hopefully, we can try to keep in mind what it’s like as they try to serve every day.”
Crabtree did say that the process established under the 2011 law does serve to slow down the contract agreement process.
First, the concerned employees must wait until after a contract expires, then a few months later, a petition can be circulated by teachers asking for a collaborative conferencing session.
Once 15 percent of the district’s professional employees sign on, the school board must then hold a special questioning committee to poll the teachers, asking whether they desire collaborative conferencing and whom they would like to represent them.
After representatives are chosen, only then can joint meetings take place, and often take many sessions to produce a contract.
“I’m pretty pleased with it ,” Crabtree said. “We’re happy to finally have something back in place that’s been missing. We’ve been operating for over a full year without a contract, so it’s nice to have something back in place that we can work with and it’s something people are pretty used to already.”