Alameda Unified official offers district's position in calendar dispute

Alameda Unified official offers district's position in calendar dispute

Michele Ellson

Alameda Unified’s top human resources official offered the district’s version of negotiations over next year’s school calendar on Tuesday night, one of the most hotly contested and closely watched items the district is negotiating with its teachers.

Human Resources Director Tom Rust told the Board of Education that district officials and the teachers union agree on a calendar, though union leaders want an agreement on teacher work hours before signing off on it. Rust said he’ll ask the board to sign off on a calendar for the first three months of school if an agreement isn’t reached by June.

Rust said the district and its school offices have received numerous calls from parents who want to know if a calendar has been approved yet. He said they want to plan summer activities around the first day of school and other vacations around school breaks.

Rust said calendars for other district staff are on hold while the calendar is being decided, as are schedules for everything from holiday break camps provided by community groups to high school proms. He said the district has been contacted by AC Transit, whose officials want to know when to schedule buses for students, and that youth sports schedules for teams across Northern California are on hold until a schedule is set.

“I believe we’re past the point of the year where we’re giving a timely calendar,” he said.

Alameda Education Association president Gray Harris said the district and union used to set school calendars at the bargaining table, and she characterized the move into bargaining as a return to past practice. The union told the district in February that it wanted to negotiate a calendar for next year at the bargaining table.

Three years’ worth of calendars had been included in the tentative agreement teachers rejected in March.

Harris said the union tied the calendar to a contract article on teacher hours in an effort to settle a larger contract item.

“I’m not really sure why we can’t settle Article 8. Unfortunately, the district only wants to talk about what they want to talk about,” Harris said. “We would like to speed this also.”

A committee made up of teachers and district staff met several times with the intent of creating a calendar for consideration of the school board and union, though what happened next isn’t entirely clear. Harris said the board rejected the proposed calendar, while Rust said the union did.

The board received a presentation on the calendar negotiations on October 25, though minutes detailing any discussion on the issue weren’t available online. The presentation envisioned a board decision on the calendar in mid-December, though a reporter couldn’t find an agenda item calling for the board to vote on a calendar between the October meeting and February 14, when another informational presentation was offered.

At that meeting Patricia Sanders, a teacher who sits on the calendar committee, said the calendar its members agreed to was rejected by the board in November, minutes from the February 14 meeting show. Rust’s presentation Tuesday said the teachers’ union said it wanted to bargain over the contract on January 24, and that its leaders told the district on February 2 they wanted an agreement on teacher hours before signing off on it.

Both sides said they offered calendar proposals that the other side rejected.

The district and the union are slated to engage in weekly bargaining sessions through the rest of the school year.

Following the presentation, board members expressed concerns about the way both sides have discussed contract negotiations with the public. Trustee Trish Herrera Spencer called district leaders’ decision to post their reports detailing bargaining sessions on the district’s website an “obstacle” to reaching a contract deal.

“I hear we want to work to reach an agreement. I do not see presenting summaries of a closed meeting to the public as a true effort to reach out to the other side,” Spencer said.

Rust said the district and the union don’t agree on report-outs from the bargaining sessions; Harris has said they haven’t been offered before and she has questioned whether the district has the right to release information from the closed bargaining sessions.

Responding to Spencer’s questions, Rust said the district has “a number of stakeholders” they report to, including the public.

“Bargaining is closed. How both sides choose to communicate to their respective parties is up them,” he said.

Trustee Mike McMahon said both sides have a duty to educate citizens on the negotiations, while Board President Margie Sherratt said she’d hoped for a joint report out from the bargaining sessions.

“I too hope we can get to interest-based bargaining, and come in and talk about what we need to happen and work toward, instead of slinging missives across the Internet,” Mooney said. “I don’t know how we don’t inform our public about what is happening.”

Both Harris and Vital have posted letters to the community detailing their positions online, and Vital has also posted the letters on the district’s website and sent them to community members via e-mail.

Also at Tuesday’s meeting, the board moved toward signing off on a name for a new arts magnet to open in place of Washington Elementary School next year. The board is expected to sign off on Maya Lin School, after the Vietnam Veterans Memorial architect, at its next meeting.

And the board received new details on temporary retrofit plans for Historic Alameda High School, portions of which could collapse in a major earthquake. The temporary retrofit, which includes caging entrances and exits to the school and an eight-foot-tall fence around most of its exterior, could cost between $550,000 and $650,000, Chief Business Officer Robert Shemwell said. Five-year-old estimates for a complete retrofit were between $9 million and $11 million, though Shemwell said the costs could be much higher today.

The board will get more information on retrofit plans and a proposal to move the district office to leased office space – a proposal that some board members said the community may question – at a special June 4 meeting. Shemwell said that district officials will also present a report on the state of the district’s facilities at that meeting.