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Teachers union, Wichita school district to try different contract bargaining technique

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Sunday, March 30, 2014, at 8:19 p.m.
  • Updated Monday, March 31, 2014, at 7:07 a.m.

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Editor's note: An earlier version of this story was incorrect about principal Terrell Davis' school.

The teachers union and Wichita district leaders will bargain differently – and perhaps more amicably – over next year’s contract, officials said.

Both sides have agreed to try a process called interest-based bargaining – or win-win bargaining – in hopes of improving the traditional sparring between district negotiators and the United Teachers of Wichita, which represents about 4,000 Wichita teachers.

“This is a joint decision between leadership of UTW and leadership of USD 259 and the Board of Education,” said union president Randy Mousley.

“Because this is the 21st century and (traditional bargaining) is a 20th-century construct, we’re moving to see if we can work more collaboratively,” he said.

The process began with a joint written statement issued by the district and the teachers union Friday in response to questions about the change.

“IBB is a less adversarial method for negotiations,” the statement said. “As part of the process, both the district and UTW will have a joint training session which has been moved to late April. Because both sides don’t know what that will involve, neither side will be able to comment specifically until after the training takes place.”

The Wichita school board on Monday will consider a proposal to name four employees as its bargaining representatives: Alicia Thompson, assistant superintendent for elementary schools; Cara Ledy, principal at South High School; Terrell Davis, principal at Truesdell Middle School; and Chris Wendt, principal at Cloud Elementary School.

Wichita teachers and district leaders normally head to the bargaining table in April to start negotiations for the next year’s contract, which is set to begin Aug. 1. Last year, the district’s lead negotiators were Tom Powell, general counsel for the district, and Shannon Krysl, head of human resources.

Typically, both sides submit proposals that include such issues as teacher pay, benefits, workload and attendance. The teams meet regularly and submit amendments and counterproposals until they finally agree on contract terms.

Labor experts say interest-based bargaining takes a different tact: Instead of issuing demands and counterdemands, the sides begin with a statement of their interests and objectives. Parties collect information jointly, analyze where money is being spent contractually and aim for a climate of trust and mutual respect.

Mousley said contract talks will remain public, open meetings. But as part of the new method, each session will be followed by a joint statement rather than comments from either side.

The district and union tried interest-based bargaining about 10 years ago under a different superintendent, school board and union leaders, but “it wasn’t particularly successful,” Mousley said.

Several times over the past several years, the district and teachers union have declared an impasse and sought federal mediation after contract talks stalled.

In 2012, union officials brought a video camera to the first session, intending to record the proceedings in case they wanted to share them with members. The district’s team protested the move, then relented and began recording the sessions as well.

At the time, teachers said the tussle over cameras was symbolic of a larger issue.

“To the common teachers like me, it feels very much like it is ‘us vs. them’ and that the administrators, the people that work in this building, automatically distrust teachers,” Sara Harjo, a teacher at South High who was a member of the union’s 2012 negotiating team, said at the time.

That year’s negotiations included lengthy clashes over lesson plans and teacher dress codes. Teachers rallied outside a school board meeting, saying they wanted better working conditions and an end to a four-year salary freeze.

Eventually, board members approved an $8.6 million package for teachers, including a 4 percent increase in salaries, more benefits and reduced working time.

Last year’s contract agreement included a one-time, 1 percent salary increase, the elimination of some professional development time and a clause that requires teachers to keep written, detailed lesson plans.

Reach Suzanne Perez Tobias at 316-268-6567 or stobias@wichitaeagle.com. Follow her on Twitter: @suzannetobias.

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