Virtual School Petition and Bargaining Update #9

Highlighted  in this newsletter:

  • We believe Home Office has made illegal changes to virtual school, including taking away our sites’ flexibility to schedule LT/GLT/MLT meetings. We have emailed SPS leadership and executive directors to ask that all  changes are immediately reversed  and that any future changes are bargained with our union. In order to show that SPS teachers support these asks, today we launched a petition for our union’s vision for a  sustainable, stable, and equitable virtual school model.  If you want to see change towards this vision, it is important to  sign our petition.
  • We met with SPS’s bargaining team for contract bargaining on Wednesday. We remain far apart on some fundamental issues (like at-will employment). Support your bargaining team and our push for a fair contract by wearing your union t-shirt and/or changing your Zoom background to our union logo during every staff meeting!
  • SPS management filed an Unfair Labor Practice charge against our union, which we believe is unfounded and suspect is an attempt to distract us from their own possible violations of the law (details below). 
  • In case you missed it, here’s information we sent out last week regarding our agreement with Summit management to increase our work from home stipends.
  • The SPS Board has scheduled two meetings in September (on the 14th and 29th) to solicit input on their Learning Continuity and Attendance Plan (basically the state-required plan for running our schools during the pandemic). The meetings are during the day, making them inaccessible to teachers, students, and working families — this timing has historically been an issue.

Our vision for sustainable virtual school

Summit management has implemented and/or planned changes to job duties and scheduling which add unnecessary challenges to our work — but do not add value to the student learning experience. As we begin the unprecedented challenge of teaching during a global pandemic, SPS needs to work with our union to create a  plan for a virtual school model that is stable, equitable, and sustainable for teachers and students.  

We sent this letter Tuesday to Summit management requesting to bargain over a number of changes that management has implemented without prior notice or an opportunity for our union to bargain. This includes taking away site autonomy in scheduling LT/GLT meetings (forcing sites to stay on zoom until 5pm on Mondays seems both unnecessary and less than productive) and unclear expectations around the new Habits and Content Block.   

We formed our union so that teachers could have a voice in decision-making. This year, it is more important than ever that Summit work with teachers to ensure that we have a successful virtual school. If you agree, please sign our petition to Summit’s management and Board  in support of a sustainable virtual school model.

Bargaining Update
On September 2, we held the 9th bargaining session to negotiate our contract with SPS management. Here’s what happened related to our three main priorities. 

Increasing Classroom Support for Students
SPS management made a class size proposal which simply states that Summit will make “reasonable efforts” to stick to class size averages. Our previous proposal on class size has much stronger language to actually hold Summit to low class size averages. We know that many of our students come to Summit schools because they thrive in a small school environment.  We want class size limitations that ensure our students receive the attention they deserve. 

It is important to note that Summit management has still not offered a counterproposal on the very first proposal we introduced back on March 20: Support Services. Our proposal would make critically needed investments in the mental health of our students and improve our program for English Learners and Diverse Learners. Summit has yet to address these critical  issues in contract negotiations — issues integral to our core mission of providing holistic support. 

Reducing Teacher Turnover and Improving Job Sustainability
Summit’s bargaining team presented a counterproposal on Calendar, Work Year, and Work Day. While in the proposal, we would end by 4pm every day, Summit also proposed adding more than three weeks to our work year, much of it in June. This significant extension of our work year hardly seems sustainable and makes little sense — not academically, not logistically.
Summit’s last proposal on employment status would define us as at-will employees, which means our jobs can be terminated at any time for any reason.  We explained to the SPS bargaining team that we do not have a counterproposal at this time because we cannot provide a genuine compromise on an issue which is so important to our teachers. Our members do not want to continue to be at-will employees. This is one core reason we formed a union. We need confirmation that when we do our jobs well, we will continue to be employed by Summit. We also need to be able to advocate for ourselves and our students without fear of hostility nor retaliation. 

Our bargaining team presented a counterproposal on Layoff and Re-Employment.  It provides a clear definition of when layoffs may occur and a clear   process for us  to be automatically offered our  jobs back if there is an opening  after a valid layoff has occurred. 

Increasing Teacher Voice in Decision-Making
One of the most fundamentally important parts of any union contract is the ability to enforce that contract — if we can’t make sure the contract is followed, there’s not much point in having one!  In our last proposal on this topic, we offered a clear  system for resolving future disputes about if SPS management has violated our contract (this is a grievance).  We believe a neutral, third party arbitrator (basically a judge) should be the final resort in determining if the contract was violated or not. This is called arbitration. While arbitrations are rare and grievances are usually resolved at lower steps in the grievance process, we believe it’s important that a neutral person be the final decision-maker on a grievance if necessary. In Summit management’s last proposal, the final decision-maker on a grievance is not a neutral outside person but SUMMIT’S OWN BOARD or a special committee on which teachers would hold a minority of seats (Summit admin and classified employees would hold two-thirds of the seats). Summit’s own Board or a committee should not decide if Summit violated our contract.  We don’t have a counterproposal at this time due to this fundamental disagreement. 

Summit’s last proposal on management rights gave Summit management the ability to suspend our union contract for up to three months in an emergency situation. We don’t think Summit should be allowed to suspend our contract.  We don’t have a counterproposal at this time due to this fundamental disagreement. 
Summit made a compensation proposal, salary schedule, and leaves proposal that stops the use of the compensation consensus process to determine compensation and benefits. We think this change is a positive one; we heard from our teachers last year that the consensus process took up an enormous amount of time and energy but didn’t actually result in more teacher voice in determining compensation or benefits. The compensation consensus process also didn’t include the salary of the highest paid employees in the organization, which seemed arbitrary and inequitable. We believe negotiating compensation and benefits through our union contract is the best way to move forward, and we are encouraged that Summit seems to be listening to this feedback!

Our union also made counterproposals on Assignments, Reassignments and Transfers and Organizational Security (dues deduction).  The following Unite Summit Bargaining Team members attended the negotiating session: Joey Hughes, Expeditions; Fuchsia Spring, K2; Amber Steele, Denali Middle; Sarah Rivas, Denali High; Hillary Odom, Shasta; Evan Anderson, Everest; and Douglas Wills, Tahoma. Daryl Hemenway from CTA also joined the discussion.  The following Summit management Bargaining Team members attended: Diane Tavenner, CEO; Kelly Garcia, Chief of Staff; and Jimmy Zuniga, Everest Executive Director.

Important Legal Update
We were surprised last week to receive notice that Summit administration filed an Unfair Labor Practice charge against our union with the Public Employment Relations Board (PERB).  The charge alleges that we’ve bargained in “bad faith” and that our communication to our authorizing school boards over the summer regarding layoffs was an “unlawful pressure tactic.” Our lawyers will respond very soon.  We are confident that the charges are baseless and suspect that they will be dismissed by PERB.

Why Would Summit Administration File Baseless Charges?:
Initially it was a bit surprising to us when we found out that administration filed these charges.  Upon further reflection, we suspect they did so because they are trying to distract attention from the numerous mistakes they’ve made during negotiations and outright violations of the law. In fact, as we’ve previously reported, we have filed four legal charges against Summit to correct their behavior for:

  1. The improper firing of three union activists
  2. Summit’s conduct during the process to recognize our union, which included dragging on the process for almost a year and misleading PERB about the role of Home Office employees, who Summit argued should be included in our union
  3. The threats made against Rainier teachers for speaking out about issues at their school
  4. The almost three-month delay to the start of bargaining our contract

Additionally, we are concerned that they are violating their charters and in some cases legal requirements by, for example, refusing to provide us information under the California Public Records Act, improperly conducting Board meetings in violation of the Brown Act, and closing Rainier without any input or notice to Rainier’s community. We suspect Summit administration is hoping to distract attention from this inappropriate behavior and perhaps trying to delay the process through these frivolous claims against our union.  Despite their efforts we have no plan to be deterred.  We are confident important changes are coming soon.

What happens next:
Our lawyers will soon respond to these charges.  We will make the response available as soon as it is ready.  In the meantime, we will continue to push hard to fix the many problems at Summit, and especially focus on restoring our pay and negotiating a virtual school schedule and working conditions that are sustainable and stable.

What can I do to help?
We have had many questions about how folks not on the bargaining team can best help.  We appreciate the conscientious offers and want to share the best ways to help move this process forward despite administration’s misguided and transparent efforts to slow down the process.  Specifically, you can fill out our welcome back survey, sign our petition for sustainable virtual school, and show your support for our union by wearing your Unite Summit t-shirt and/or changing your Zoom background to our union logo during LT, GLT, CLT, and MLT meetings. Also, if you have any questions, please reach out to one of our school site reps or bargaining team members.

Union Visibility – Show Your Support!
In order to show support for our union and our goals of settling a contract that provides greater support services for students, reduces teacher turnover, and allows teachers to have a voice in decision-making, wear your Unite Summit t-shirt and/or change your Zoom background to our union logo during our LT, GLT, CLT, and MLT meetings. If you need a t-shirt, fill out our welcome back  survey. And if you have any other questions or ideas, please reach out to your site rep!

Next SPS Board Meetings
As part of its budget, the State is requiring districts and charter schools to come up with a Learning Continuity and Attendance Plan which describes, among other things, how distance learning will take place, how students will access services, and how the mental health and socio-emotional wellbeing of both students and staff will be supported. The plan must be passed by school boards by September 30 and community input is required (which is why there are two meetings). The meetings are: Monday September 14, 3-4pm Tuesday, September 29, 10-11am
It is disappointing — but not surprising — that the SPS Board is continuing to schedule meetings during the day, when they are largely inaccessible to our school communities. The agenda, materials, and Zoom link to join will be posted here