By Heather Mullinix
The Cumberland County Board of Education and the Cumberland County Education Association have agreed to informal discussions and collaborative conferencing as a way to provide teachers a voice in the school system.
Julia Timson, with CCEA, said, “We’ve always had a great working relationship. I’m not afraid of any of you. I can approach any of you. I feel like, as teachers, we can all come to you.”
Collaborative conferencing is the process where the chairman of the board of education and the professional employees, or designated representatives, meet to confer, consult, discuss, exchange information, opinions and proposals related to terms and conditions of professional services using the principals of “interest-based collaborative problem solving.” That term is not defined in the law, but Tennessee Department of Education guidance points towards a process where the parties discuss areas of concern in a non-adversarial manner.
Timson and Director of Schools Donald Andrews noted the CCEA had agreed to informal conferencing, though Timson said the teachers would be happy to form a committee and go through the formal process.
Andrews said, “We want teachers to have a voice. We feel there is and continues to be that respect between administration, the board and teachers. I propose to you that you permit us to work in collaboration with the superintendent and teachers so that they may have a voice, not at a formal table setting, but in an informal manner to get information to us so that we know what their needs are.”
The Professional Educators Collaborative Conferencing Act (PECCA) took effect June 1, 2011, but at that time, the board and CCEA had a negotiated contact, which expired August 2013. The new law did not terminate existing agreements, but governed future agreements once the negotiated contract expired. PECCA requires 15 percent or more of the professional employees to request collaborative conferencing, a threshold which was met by CCEA.
Collaborative conferencing can address salaries or wages; grievance procedures; insurance; fringe benefits; working conditions; leave; and payroll deductions. It cannot address differentiated pay plans or other incentive compensation programs tied to performance or that help hire or retain highly qualified teachers in hard-to-staff subjects or schools; evaluation of professional employees; staffing decisions and policies tied to innovative educational programs, virtual education programs or other innovative schools or school districts; payroll deductions for political activities; and all personal decisions concerning assignment of professional employees for filling vacancies, specific school assignments, transfers, layoffs, reductions in force and recall, and no agreement may include provisions that require personnel decisions be determined on the basis of tenure, seniority or length of service.
Instead of a contract, the process would lead to a memorandum of understanding to be presented to the board of education for approval, with a maximum term of three years. If an agreement is not reached on certain terms and conditions, the board has the authority to address those terms and conditions through its policy.
Charles Tollett, 1st District representative, said, “The board is committed to hearing from our teacher, not only on budgetary items, but for policy and other matters. We value that and would love to keep that.”
Dan Schlafer, 9th District representative, moved to approve collaborative conferencing, supported by Josh Stone, 4th District representative. The motion was unanimously approved.