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Guest blogger Bruce McGirr, director of the Administrators Association, is arguing today about why he thinks a “maintenance of standards” clause in the teachers’ contract would handcuff principals and stymie change. Confused? Read the background on this debate here, and check out our first guest blog on this topic from teachers union President Camille Zombro, who argued in favor of the idea.

These are his opinions, not mine, so if you have questions, comments or counterarguments, feel free to post them here in the blog or e-mail Bruce directly at bruce@aasdcs.org. Don’t forget to tell him if he can use your name to respond to your points in a blog post!

EMILY ALPERT

The latest contract proposal from San Diego Educators Association (SDEA) regarding “Maintenance of Workload” (formerly known as Maintenance of Standards) has raised concerns among principals of the San Diego Unified School District.

Thursday’s Blogger for a Day, SDEA president, Camille Zambro, implies that principals and their leadership, the Administrators Association San Diego (AASD) have either been duped by rumors, or are propagating rumors regarding Maintenance of Standards. It is her opinion that opponents of SDEA’s proposal are, “at best intentionally ill-informed and at worse maliciously anti-educator…” AASD would argue that principals are neither.

Principals are concerned because, with the exception of the superintendent, they are the only employees held directly accountable for student performance. With their jobs hanging in the balance, principals are expected to lead their schools and raise student performance. But in order to do their jobs, they must navigate teacher labor agreements that restrict the flexibility needed to manage effectively.

Principals and AASD are troubled because they have studied the complete text of the SDEA proposal, which is available on their website. Take for example:

“All terms and conditions of employment, including, but not limited to, extra compensation for duties outside regular teaching hours, relief periods, leaves, and general teaching conditions shall be maintained at not less than the highest minimum standards in effect at the time this agreement is signed.”

No doubt that there would be disagreement between principals and SDEA as to what constituted “general teaching conditions”, but the proposal offers this solution.

“Following the signing of this agreement, any disagreement between the parties regarding this provision shall be subject to discussion between the parties, for the purpose of making a mutual and good faith effort to resolve the dispute at an early stage. SDEA shall make the District aware of its concerns within twenty (20) workdays of becoming aware of the issue(s). In the event that these discussions do not lead to resolution of the disagreement within twenty (20) workdays of the Union bringing the issue to the attention of the District, the matter shall be subject to the grievance procedure.”

A maintenance of standards clause and a grievance procedure that ends in binding arbitration would effectively relieve principals and teachers of the decision-making authority necessary to change the status quo at individual schools, in order to raise student achievement.

Given the track record of the nation’s teachers unions, principals are not alone in their skepticism. Even the former president of the National Education Association, Bob Chase, wrote in a 1997 letter: “Of tremendous consequence is the equally sobering fact that NEA is not viewed by virtually anyone in the education, political, social environment as a creative, positive, and influential leader in making America’s public schools better. Quite the contrary, NEA is increasingly viewed as an obdurate and powerful protector of the status quo, which translates to the average citizen as the protector of bad public education. Even worse than being seen as irrelevant, we are seen as part of the problem.”

According to a research report published by the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, 2008, San Diego’s teacher contract received a Highly Restrictive rating, the lowest possible, ranking third to last among the 50 districts studied—and third among the four California districts examined: “Of the 10 components for which it received a grade, the district garnered five Fs, no As, and only one B. San Diego’s collective bargaining agreement is especially restrictive when it comes to Work Rules, a category in which it ranked second to last.”

On behalf of its members, AASD urges SDEA to tone down the rhetoric and reduce the unnecessary verbiage in their latest proposal. If you really have no intention of taking over the district, clarify and clean up the language so that it is unambiguous.

Begin to rebuild the trust between principals and teachers by saying what you mean, clearly and succinctly. Embedded in all the legalese is the heart of your demands, which are legitimate and undisputed: “Teachers’ plates are already full.” Perhaps the section could be rewritten to say “the parties agree that certain issues/responsibilities may exceed the 8-hour workday,” instead of “the minimum standards in effect at the beginning of the 2008-09 school year.”

We agree that workloads are a problem, but the answer is not to give everyone a bigger plate. If you want teachers to be compensated for additional work assigned outside the 8-hour contract day, just say so. Abandon your quest for a complete maintenance of standards clause and principals will support you.

— BRUCE MCGIRR

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