Misconceptions about teacher contracts

Now that the illegal strike by teachers in the Marysville School District has ended after setting a new record for the length of an illegal walkout, it should be obvious that change is needed.

The boards of directors and the administrators of school districts in Washington need to inform the residents of their districts about the terms of their teachers’ employment contracts.

Our legislators need to amend state law to state unambiguously that teachers have no right to strike, and to include a penalty for violation of that prohibition.

Residents of school districts have so little information and understanding of the teacher employment process that union representatives can and do easily mislead large segments of the population.

The law requires the districts to bargain with the unions, but it doesn’t require any district to agree with a union. The absence of a collective bargaining agreement doesn’t equate to the absence of a contract between the district and the teachers employed by that district.

Yet, the Marysville union’s public statements frequently included the assertion that the teachers wouldn’t return to the classrooms without a contract.

Under state law (Revised Code of Washington 28A.405.210), any teacher who hasn’t been notified by May 15 that his or her contract will not be renewed “shall be conclusively presumed to have been re-employed by the district for the next ensuing term upon contractual terms identical with those which would have prevailed if his or her employment had actually been renewed by the board of directors.”

In other words, every teacher in Marysville had a contract of employment with the district during this illegal strike — either because they had each signed a contract offered to them, or because they had not been notified that the district wouldn’t be renewing their contracts for the coming school year.

The dispute appears to have centered on two issues, one of which involved supplemental contracts with each teacher for additional pay for the performance of duties above and beyond those required by their basic contract.

In some districts, this additional compensation is called “Additional Time and Responsibility Pay,” but in Marysville it is called “Time, Responsibility and Incentive” pay (TRI).

Faced with an apparent need to improve classroom instruction, the Marysville School District decided that TRI pay should be focused on professional development — otherwise known as teacher training.

To do so, the district had to stop paying for eight days of “self-directed” time, and start paying for eight days of “district-directed” time.

The union asserted that such a change would equate to working eight extra days each year for no additional pay. No one seems to have pointed out that if the teachers were already working those eight additional days, even though in self-directed tasks, they were not being asked to work extra days without extra pay.

It seems obvious that few people in the Marysville School District or elsewhere understood the nature of this point of contention.

Perhaps one reason for the poor job done by school districts in providing information to the public is their reluctance to admit how close to the edge of the law they are skating.

Supplemental contracts cannot lawfully be used to provide additional pay for performing the duties required under the basic employment contract.

Consider the case of Marysville, where the union publicly asserted (as reported in The Seattle Times on Oct. 9) that its additional pay for self-directed tasks “essentially recognizes the work teachers put in after the day’s final bell, such as grading papers, planning lessons and meeting with parents.”

Compare this union statement (which is undoubtedly accurate) with the state law which defines teachers’ responsibilities under their basic employment contracts. Teachers are “responsible for the evaluation of each pupil’s growth and development and for making periodic reports to parents or guardian (sic) and to the designated school administrator.”

Also, teachers are “required to make daily preparation for their duties.” (Washington Administrative Code 180-44-010.)

In other words, grading papers, providing grades for report cards, meeting with parents, and planning their daily lessons are all duties teachers must perform under their basic contracts.

The district cannot lawfully increase teachers’ pay under the guise of pay for additional time and responsibilities, when the self-directed tasks are already part of their basic duties.

But they do.

Teaching is a profession, not a factory job in which the workers punch a clock at the beginning and end of the workday.

Moreover, it is a profession that requires teachers to spend more than 40 hours a week during the school term to perform their duties competently.

In a sense, it is seasonal work.

Many people erroneously claim that teachers have one of the best paid part-time jobs in the nation, but they misunderstand the nature of the profession.

Teachers who are true professionals work far more than 40 hours a week and need the periodic breaks and long summer vacation to avoid burnout.

Teachers who assert that they put in hundreds of hours of unpaid time during the school year are also in error. Not one hour of effort required to do a competent, professional job in the performance of their basic duties is unpaid.

Those who claim otherwise don’t understand the difference between a profession and a factory job.

Until the boards of directors in each school district and our legislators inform the public of the nature of the employment process, union leaders will continue to mislead both their own members and the public in their efforts to gain the upper hand.

I, for one, am sick and tired of watching it happen.

Robert Meadows is a

Port Orchard resident.

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