Home > Uncategorized > Deconstructing Reynoldsburg From a Distance

Deconstructing Reynoldsburg From a Distance

September 25, 2014

Over the past several months I watched the conflict between the Reynoldsburg School Board and the Reynoldsburg Education Association unfold from a distance. At this juncture, I have a bad feeling about how this is all going to end for Reynoldsburg because it appears from blog posts I’m reading from 1,000 miles away that the conflict in the community MAY be a proxy for what is occurring at the State level… and if that is the case, “higher forces” may want to see a “victory” instead of a settlement. I am offering this unsolicited advice to both parties on the assumption that the Reyonldsburg community is not interested in being a proxy and wants to reach a settlement that will get children back into classrooms and get the Board and REA working harmoniously in the years ahead.

Thanks to Google, I was able to review news reports from the past several months. From those reports I identified areas where I believe the Board and the REA made some tactical errors… and an area where they both erred. After reading through this information, writing a draft of this post, and reflecting on it for a day, my conclusion is that the fastest way out of the woods would be to have the federal mediator to persuade the REA and Reynoldsburg Board to agree to binding arbitration.

Here’s where I believe the Board erred based on media reports and “best practices”:

  • The Board did not conduct a wide and public search for a Superintendent: The current Superintendent, Tina Thomas-Manning, was appointed by the board without any public input or engagement. As one who was on the receiving end of several searches and one who has conducted several searches, I am a strong believer in the need to have public engagement as part of the administrative search process. An administrative search that includes public engagement provides the Board with a sense of what the community and teachers are seeking in a leader and provides the incoming administrator with a greater understanding of the context of the assignment and the community, teacher, parent, and Board expectations. Public interviews, which are often a part of the public engagement process, can be problematic for the “recruit” since they often require the release of the applicant’s name and credentials which can create some turmoil in the applicant’s current workplace. But having been in that situation on several occasions I believe the trade off is worth it. While Thomas-Manning was a known quantity to the board and the school community, her credibility as the optimal applicant would have been strengthened had she been hired using a more open process… and some of the claims about her allegiances to State level politicians I’ve read in various blogs might not have as much traction.
  • The Board delegated too much authority to the Superintendent in the negotiations process: In the six states where I served as Superintendent, in my graduate courses in the 1970s, and in many negotiations seminars I attended over three decades, I learned that the Board should “own” the negotiations process and decisions and the Superintendent should play the role of intermediary. In some small districts I served as chief negotiator for the Board, but in those cases I made it clear that only the full board could make the final decisions regarding bargaining positions. In larger districts I worked with the Board and administrators to set negotiations objectives and conferred with the board negotiations team on an as needed basis. In many instances the board hired a professional negotiator, often an attorney with a strong background in state and federal employment laws. In all cases, the majority of the board members made the key decisions regarding the bargaining process and set the collective bargaining parameters. By giving the full authority to a newly appointed Superintendent with no previous collective bargaining experience (at least none that was referenced in article announcing her appointment) they acted irresponsibly and placed the Superintendent in a very difficult position since she will ultimately be responsible for unifying the district once the strike is over.
  • The Board is stuck on one form of performance pay: The traditional lock-step unitary pay schedule is imperfect but it DOES have a “merit” component! It defines “merit” as the accumulation of years of experience (steps) and graduate credits (tracks). The board and superintendent seem to be stuck on the notion that steps and tracks should be abandoned and standardized test scores should be used to define “merit”. This notion mirrors the “school reform” philosophy of the current leaders of the Ohio State Department of Education and the current USDOE leadership. As I’ve written repeatedly on this blog (see value added entries) the use of test scores to measure teacher performance has no statistical validity and has the effect of narrowing the curriculum. I’ve also written elsewhere on this blog that there are other ways to replace the traditional pay scale that would use a more holistic and research based means of measuring “merit”, ways that MIGHT gain traction with the REA if they were considered.
  • The Board was intent on keeping schools open at all cost: Authorizing the contract with Huffmaster, whose “Strike Services” division’s motto is “when strikes threaten, no one works harder for you” and authorizing the acquisition of $200,000+ of  laptop computers to “…support lessons given by substitute teachers paid to cross picket lines” was a signal that the Board was going to try to keep school open even if it required them to pay more money for poorer services. It had two other adverse effects: it undercut the sincerity of their binding arbitration offer and made it appear that privatization might be their ultimate goal.

Here’s where I believe the teachers erred based on media reports:

  • The REA did not emphasize their willingness to explore “merit pay”: One article from a weekly Reynoldsburg News reported that “(t)he district has studied merit pay for three years and has included REA members in the discussion. More than 20 volunteered to participate in a two-year merit-pay pilot program, and hundreds have received a “student incentive award” based on student performance, for the past 10 years.”  The REA should emphasize this as evidence of their openness to exploring “merit pay”, explain why the pilot program was deficient, and explain why they do not want this kind of compensation plan even though “hundreds” of teachers received “student incentive awards” over the past 10 years. The REA could also educate the public about the preposterous way test scores are being used to measure the performance of teachers in the district now as a means of demonstrating the impracticality of basing “merit” on tests.
  • The REA did not provide a clear explanation of their rationale for refusing binding arbitration: The GFA Blue Blog, which is evidently somewhat right of center in its politics, poses a question in this blog post from earlier this week that the REA should address: “Why did the REA Reject Binding Arbitration?”. If the answer is “we wanted to retain the right to strike”, if public will ultimately perceive the REA as “causing” the strike. If there is another answer the REA should provide it ASAP.
  • The REA did not link class size caps to open enrollment revenues: From all evidence on line, Reynoldsburg is gaining students from its open enrollment plan… and gaining corresponding revenue of $5700 per student as a result. Those funds could be used to limit the budget’s impact on taxes OR they could be used to ensure that teachers have a manageable class size. It appears that the open enrollment initiative and the increase in class sizes are linked… and… if that is the case the REA is missing an opportunity to make a stronger case for their “cap” demands.

And here’s where I believed BOTH parties erred: they wanted a victory instead of a settlement.

One possible way to get teachers back into the classrooms without either party “losing face”: have both parties agree to binding arbitration. This would clearly require a concession by both parties, but concessions are necessary for a settlement to be reached and having an impartial third party resolve the conflict in this case seems to be the best way out of the woods.

The REA apparently didn’t want to enter into binding arbitration because it would prevent them from striking… Well… they’ve had a strike and from what I’ve read in some alternative media sources, the results aren’t good. The REA could “save face” on this issue by accurately claiming that their members are dismayed at what they are witnessing in the schools during the strike and want to get back into their classrooms and spend time with their teachers. After proving their point about the right to strike they are now prepared to let an arbitrator decide who is right. If, on the other hand, the REA remains closed to the idea of arbitration to “save face” they could appear to be stubborn and unyielding and, as note above, be perceived as causing the strike in the first place.

By agreeing to re-offer arbitration offer to the REA, the Board would “save face” by using that action to demonstrate its desire to achieve a settlement quickly so that teachers and administrators can get back to work educating the children in the community. If, on the other hand, the Board wants to withhold its binding arbitration offer because of the REA’s vote to strike, they would effectively be advocating that what is happening now in the classrooms is OK and insisting that the REA be punished for striking.

Will a settlement occur after Sunday’s scheduled session? Has the strike softened positions or annealed them? I would hope that the majority of the public would be on the side of the students who want their teachers back in the classroom and, sensing that community will, BOTH sides will soften their positions… forget about “winning”… and get a settlement.

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  1. September 27, 2014 at 7:55 pm

    This is an interesting analysis of the situation.

    However, as an Reynoldsburg Education Association (REA) member, I do know that we did explore the idea of Merit pay. Quite a bit of research had been done on it by our members. We found only two districts where it appears to work and, in actuality, the merit pay aspect of their contracts is nominal. Also, the board was willing to only discuss only one type of testing to base the merit pay upon without regard to socio-economic factors and even the type of learning disability a child has. The complexity of making merit pay work is far too complex to go into negations with a group that couldn’t even outline the specific on how merit pay would work but that we had to accept it.

    We also discussed binding arbitration, as well. Unfortunately, whoever that would be brought in would not know the circumstances of the situation that we have been living with for a minimum of 4 years. We, also, were concerned about the constant lying from Central Office. Anyone coming in would have to struggle to determine the real truth of the situation.

    Perhaps, we did not directly link the open enrollment with the cap sizes but we have been demoralized for years under Steve Dackin. He consistently refused to even discuss class caps and the mantra was “Do not ask for resources.” Despite how CO has finagled class sizes, they are outrageous and at the high school I teach, with huge numbers of students on free and reduced lunches, we have received less resources than the high school with wealthier families. (Please look further into how they set school boundaries. Inequity would be an appropriate word here.) Please note, as well, that we have very little unprotected plan time. Approximately 2 1/2 hours per grading period. The rest of the time is taken with meetings, IEPs, and various other duties.

    You sound like an intelligent person but you totally lost me that REA wants a victory. Your credibility dropped significantly at that point. You must not know us at all. Our negotiating team gave concessions that the majority of the teachers were not happy with but they did so we could get back into the classroom.

    You must not also know or understand the majority of teachers. We love our students like our own. We don’t care about money (I am a 58 year old widow with a mortgage receiving no money or health insurance) but I am in the process of selling my home to live in a small apartment because like, my peers, we must do what is right for our students.

    Education is NOT a business. It is about families, teachers, administration and the community coming together to do what is right for the students. We want this more than anything, including, the concept of “winning”.

    If you truly want to understand this situation better, please contact us. No lies. No ego. Just what has been happening for the past 4 years. I couldn’t find you real name but I will give you mine. I have lived my life open and truthful.

    Sincerely,

    Sherri Ogden Wellington

  2. September 30, 2014 at 12:42 pm

    beautifully said, sherri.

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