The ballots have been counted and the membership has voted to approve the tentative agreement for this school year. This is a one-year contract only, and will expire on June 30, 2012. The school board has to also approve it, and will vote on Monday, November 28. I’ve never seen the board vote “no” when we voted “yes” so it’s a safe bet that the TA arrangement will stand as our new contract covering the rest of this year.
The good news, of course, is that those of you who should have received a wage increase because of your advancement on the steps — essentially your willingness to remain a “valued member of the Parchment School District” — will now get some of the money to which you are entitled. Those of you who have not been expecting a step-based pay increase will get something, but not very much.
The vote was not unanimous. Contract votes rarely are. As a member of the bargaining team, I can tell you that we brought this agreement to you with a lot of fear and trembling, because we know it’s not a great deal. Yes, other area teachers have actually accepted pay cuts over the last year or two, and many have seen a reduction in the steps like we have. But it’s hard to feel valued when the district cannot (or will not) put a financial price on your value.
So that’s the bad news. Some of you are not happy with the settlement and perhaps not happy with the bargainers.
I would urge you who are not happy to turn that emotion into positive action. We are in this contract mess because of the men and women in Lansing who changed the rules of the game — no more automatic step increases, no say in how we are evaluated, no tenure protection, and giant cuts to school funding. As soon as you get the chance, vote for candidates who actually support the job you do. Consider donating to political parties or funds. Write letters to those in office now. Speak to family, friends and neighbors about the so-called shared sacrifices that have hit you and your family personally.
If those activities aren’t enough to dispel your unhappiness, you can go even further. Volunteer to be a PEA building rep, run for an executive board position, or ask to become a part of the bargaining team and have a personal voice at the table. We are not a large local association, but we do have many people performing two or three association jobs when other teachers are just as capable. None of us who have served the association had any really clear idea of what we were getting ourselves into when we stepped up, but all of us have been rewarded by knowing that our work helped, even in small ways, make the teaching experience of a colleague a little better.
I know that I personally benefited from having a building rep who sat with me in a thorny meeting with a principal about 25 years ago. I was pretty new at the job and could have been pushed around by the administrator, but that rep by my side made sure he didn’t go too far.
So don’t sell yourself short — there are plenty of others out there willing to do that for you — and consider taking a more active/involved role in the association that won tenure rights, evaluation language, salary scales, and many other contract items many years ago. The administration doesn’t just hand its employees a contract like the one we have. There are plenty of teachers who don’t have a critical needs bank or sick leave bank or severance pay or many other things that we take for granted. These things were won over the years by bargaining teams who also faced stubborn and (at times) stingy school boards.
Let’s make the best of this current situation and work together (like we did during our week of protest) to get the message out: Parchment teachers care and are worth paying fairly. Let’s get the community on our side before we go back to the bargaining table.