The Washington Board of Education probably is going to adopt policies that could lead to a teachers’ union or another organization being the sole representative in negotiations over pay and benefits. The National Educational Association (NEA) has indicated that it wants to be the lone negotiator when pay and benefits are determined.

The Washington district now has no formal policy designating which group, or groups, that represent teachers can be at the table. It has negotiated in the past with representatives from the NEA and Missouri State Teachers Association (MSTA). This informal policy has worked.

Now the board has been advised by its attorney that it must have a formal policy in place, which undoubtedly means elections among the teachers to decide: If one group would represent teachers; multiple representation as it is now; or no representation.

If exclusive representation receives the majority vote, then another election would be held to determine which group will represent the teachers. Another election would be held if multiple representation received the majority vote to determine which groups will be at the bargaining table. Teachers also may vote not to be represented by any union or any other group.

All groups that receive 30 percent of the vote in the second election will be considered part of the negotiating unit, and all negotiations will be conducted with all representatives at the same time. If the majority in the first election select no representation, the process is complete. If none of the options receive the majority vote in the first election, then the board will assume teachers are not interested in multiple groups, and an election will be held for the bargaining unit to select an exclusive representative or decide not to be represented by any union or group.

Boards in the past in the district have allowed two groups to negotiate. That has been fair and democratic. It is unfortunate that if one group wants to be the exclusive negotiator and if it files a petition for such, the board has to follow the election process outlined above. It has no choice. NEA is expected to file a petition.

This issue has the potential to divide the teachers, resulting in strife in the district. It has the potential for some teachers to pressure other teachers to join their group. The way it is now, according to reports, NEA and MSTA each represent about one-third of the teachers. The other one-third don’t belong to either group. With both groups at the bargaining table, as mentioned before, that process has worked.

In general, we have had school boards that have done the best they can with available revenue. The fact that many teachers have spent their entire careers, or most of it, teaching in the district attests to that fact. Would they have liked higher pay and better benefits? Of course, but they recognized the revenue facts. They enjoyed teaching in the district. For some it was a sacrifice.

This representation issue is a cause for concern. It is not in the best interests of the district. It is not in the best interests of the students. After all, the students must come first.