Superintendent Dr. Lori VanLeer

The Washington School Board is reviewing sample policies which deal with negotiations with employee representatives.

The district and teachers have a tradition of informally discussing salary, benefits and other conditions of employment.

Currently, representatives of two teacher groups, MSTA and NEA, meet with administrators on salaries. These meetings typically occur after the first of the year prior to the board reviewing salary and benefit changes.

Superintendent Dr. Lori VanLeer said this informal process will continue in the absence of a request for a more formal procedure, but she feels it’s in the district’s best interest to adopt policies and a process to recognize a union or teachers association if the situation arises.

VanLeer said informally, NEA representatives have inquired about becoming the exclusive representative group for all teachers. A formal request has not been made, she stressed.

Assistant Superintendent Dr. Brendan Mahon said MSTA representatives would prefer to keep the process as is with multiple representatives at the table.

About one-third of the district’s teachers belong to NEA, another third belong to MSTA, and the remaining are not affiliated with either one.

“Right now, we have very general policies in place, but school districts can run into trouble if they don’t have specific policies and procedures,” VanLeer said. “We are not voting on anything right now, and we’re still waiting to hear back from our attorney, but it’s something we need to work on.”

She also suggested having the attorney attend an upcoming meeting, so board members can ask questions and gain a better understanding of the process. Board members liked that idea.

Several board members said while it’s up to teachers to decide on who they want to represent them at the negotiations table, they doubted if an exclusive group could really represent the views of all teachers given how membership is currently divided between two groups, and another third of teachers not belonging to either one.

“How would exclusive representation be advantageous for members of another group?” Jennifer Triplett asked. “That doesn’t seem fair.”

Board member Kevin Blackburn agreed, saying there are two separate teacher organizations for a reason and he doesn’t expect the vote to be in favor of exclusive representation.

“I would have a problem with that,” he remarked. “I understand it would probably be easier to deal with just one group, but I can’t see how the teachers would like that.”

Mahon said the policies would dictate that all teachers have the opportunity to vote on exclusive or multiple representation, but it would be up to the teachers to cast their vote.

“If we do have to have an election, as a district we hope we have a very high teacher voter turnout because in some school districts this has not been the case,” Mahon told The Missourian.

“Also, if we have an election, regardless of that outcome, single representation, multiple representation or continuing with the current process, we want whoever is at the table negotiating for the teachers to be representing the voices of as many teachers as possible,” he added.

VanLeer told The Missourian the election process is very complicated and that’s why specific policies need to be put into place.

“We need policies and processes for when and how a request is made, how an election is done and what that looks like, and a good understanding of what happens after that if it’s one group or multiple,” she said. “This is just the beginning and we’ll have more discussion and input before approving any policies.”