Last Thursday, after two year and over 170 hours in bargaining and mediation sessions, we were released into the next step of the bargaining process. When an agreement is not reached with the help of a mediator, the process moves into fact-finding. While we have made more progress in the past two months than we have over the past two years, there are still some outstanding issues that we are still far apart on.
- Probationary Period. We have proposed a 2 year probationary period, with the option for an Executive Director to add a third year. Summit wants a 3 year probationary period, with the option for the Executive Director to add a fourth year. All district schools and most union charter schools have a two year probationary period. During a probationary period, a teacher can be fired for any or no reason. After their probationary period is over, a teacher can only be fired for cause (ie the member poses a safety risk to students) or performance and there is a clear, transparent, and fair process to do so. We fail to see how Summit’s proposed lengthy probationary period shows respect for teachers or helps with retention.
- Management Rights. Summit wants the power to suspend our contract in cases of emergency. Not only is this a waiver of our rights under the law, we also have two examples to demonstrate why this power is unnecessary.
The first is the pay freeze from 2020. Summit claimed there was a fiscal emergency and that if our union didn’t agree to a pay freeze, they would lay off teachers. Only a short time later, Summit said there wasn’t a fiscal emergency after all. We refuse to put our members through that situation again.
The second is our response to COVID 19. Summit has said the right to suspend our contract is critical for responding to emergencies like the pandemic. However, at the start of the pandemic, our union had the right to bargain over working conditions and we were able to quickly make changes to serve our students. We believe having teachers be partners in decision-making — especially during an emergency — is critical for providing the best environment for our students.
- English Learners. We are so excited that, after two years of bargaining, Summit has added support for English Learners into their contract proposals. Summit management has recognized how important this issue is to our members. Unfortunately, we believe Summit’s proposed student-teacher ratio for EL classes is still too high, especially given the past few years and the lack of services they received. We know Summit has the money to provide EL students appropriate class size.
- Term and Ratification Bonus. The final two items are about when the contract would go into effect and a bonus for ratifying our contract. Summit does not want the contract to actually start until July 1, 2022. We don’t think it makes sense to wait. Charter school contracts typically go into effect on the date they are ratified (when both sides vote to accept the contract). We also believe teachers deserve a ratification bonus, especially given what we’ve all been through during the past two years.
Unfortunately, instead of acting with urgency to address the teacher retention crisis and provide appropriate services for English Learners, Summit’s CEO Diane Tavenner informed our Unite Summit bargaining team on March 18 that she was leaving the country, and for the next 17 days would be unavailable to even respond to emails and would not delegate authority to anyone else on Summit management’s bargaining team to make decisions while she is gone.
This is unacceptable. We cannot allow SPS management to continue perpetuating the teacher retention crisis that our schools suffer from each year by not addressing the needs of our students and valuing our educators for all the work and dedication they pour into our schools. We need a fair contract now.
On March 31, Cesar Chavez Day, Summit teachers will be voting to authorize a strike. This is a serious decision that teachers do not take lightly. We have informed Summit management’s bargaining team what it will take to settle our contract and we remain available to negotiate. But we have gone two years without a contract. Our students and our schools cannot afford to wait any longer.
To learn more about how you can support Summit teachers in our fight for a fair contract, please visit tinyurl.com/SupportUniteSummit