In August, we demanded to bargain with the District over the workload impacts of the pandemic. The District finally sat down to formally begin this critical discussion in November. By then it was clear that our untenable workload– exacerbated by the pandemic conditions– was creating a staffing crisis that threatens our ability to safely run our schools.
We clearly stated our goal of offering educators meaningful workload relief, and creating better systems of support for students before the winter break, so that our community could have time to adjust to any changes, and so that students and educators could come back in January with some confidence that things will get better.
After 5 sessions of bargaining, it became abundantly clear that the District wasn’t willing to offer any significant workload relief for educators, or any meaningful improvements in student safety or student academic/emotional support. Therefore, today, we informed the District we are withdrawing from these talks.
The Crisis We are Facing
With over 1,400 PAT educators responding to our survey that they are considering leaving the profession, and the District’s own data highlighting the multiple crises facing our school communities, your PAT Bargaining Team pushed District leaders for immediate action.
We are dangerously understaffed, safety is a constant concern in our buildings, and many students urgently need targeted support. These problems will continue to get much worse if the District does not change course. In order to preserve this school year, and have hope that next year can be better, we need to readjust by making this year manageable for educators and responsive to student needs.
Our Solutions: The Time to Get it Right
In response to this crisis, PAT proposed a series of adjustments designed to give educators the time they need to meaningfully support students and create a positive and safe school environment. All of our proposals came from what educators said they need to better meet students this school year:
- Time for educators to adapt instruction to meet student needs and to give feedback to students and families
- Time for educators to collaborate with SpEd, ELL, Social Workers and content teams
- Time for school staff to work together on school climate for student safety and learning
- Temporary removal of job duties that do not immediately have an impact on student learning
- A requirement that PPS BESC staff who are not PAT members pitch in to help when there are para-educator vacancies and absences
The District indicated that they shared the goal of addressing the crisis we are facing. However, they rejected almost all of PAT’s proposals, including common sense changes that do not impact student instructional time:
- They refused to give professional educators any autonomy in how we use our “Professional Learning Community” meetings (PLC’s), insisting that all PLC collaboration time must be fully administrator-directed.
- They refused to lift the cap on compensating Special Educators for IEP writing, while also refusing to agree that Special Educators can not be expected to do legally-required work outside the contract day if the District refuses to pay for it. This is a failure to offer support for Special Education students.
- They refused to begin the New Year with a day to work on school climate. While the District agrees student safety and learning depend on schools having a building-wide School Climate Plan, they refused to use the natural opportunity of winter break to allow schools a meaningful opportunity to reset. Ironically, the District rejected our proposal (which we presented in November) by asserting that administrators need a month in January to prepare for one day of school climate work.
- In the last minutes of discussion, they revealed that their “offer” to add a planning day in March was in fact just a proposal to shift a planning day we already have in June, while still expecting educators to complete all the end-of-year tasks and duties which that day is for.
After analyzing the practical implementation of the District’s proposals, it is clear that the totality of what they are proposing fails to provide genuine or adequate support for educators and students.
The only conclusion we can draw from this is that the District is banking on educators to shoulder the burden and legal liability of a dangerously understaffed system. The District is expecting parents and students to accept a system where student safety is in question, and any meaningful support for struggling students depends on educators working on their own time, outside of the system that PPS has created.
The District says it understands the needs of students and educators and that it is trying to balance the needs of both. But those needs are not in opposition: to meet students’ needs, PPS must listen to what professional educators know is necessary to meet those needs. And it should be obvious that pushing educators past their breaking point invariably hurts students.
The District has always had the power to work with the PAT to make changes it believes are necessary to address the crisis we are in. We call on the District to do so now. Any proposal put forth by the District that, in fact, benefits students and educators can be assured the fast-track vetting by PAT necessary for rapid implementation.
In the meantime, given the ongoing staffing crisis, we can only recommend that educators set personal boundaries which allow them to persevere until conditions improve. Remember, you cannot pour from an empty cup - we are not serving our students, our communities, or ourselves by careening to our own breaking points. We must all set realistic expectations of ourselves, and support our colleagues in doing the same. It is ok to say, “this is all I can do” and let that be enough.
In the coming month, it is essential that our union shifts focus to fully implementing our COVID-19 safety agreements and making sure we do everything we can to keep school staff and students as safe as possible during this wave of the pandemic.
Your PAT Bargaining Team is now focusing on negotiations for a successor agreement to our current contract, which expires at the end of this school year. We will seek major improvements to the teaching and learning conditions in our schools, and will propose language to address vital issues such as class size, planning time, school safety, and fair compensation that keeps up with inflation. We believe that we can and will achieve these goals as long as we are fully united in fighting for them. More communications about the timeline and process for successor bargaining will be forthcoming.
In a moment when so many of our colleagues are feeling despair, we fervently believe that the collective actions of thousands of passionate professional educators can reignite hope and bring lasting improvements to our schools in 2022 and beyond. We will continue to fight for our vision, in which becoming an educator is not only a calling, but a career that attracts highly-skilled and diverse professionals, and supports beloved educators to remain in these positions throughout their professional lives. Our students deserve no less.
Your PAT Bargaining Team
Steve Lancaster, Angela Bonilla, Emy Markewitz, Charity Powell, Francisca Alvarez, Thea Keith