If a union contract helps improve schools, we’re all for it. But we think there is going to be a burden of proof on the Jefferson Parish School Board and the teachers union that has pushed for a contract and fought to overturn a progressive majority of the former board to get one.
The new board has a union-backed majority from last fall’s election. The effort to return to a collective-bargaining agreement was among the top priorities of the new majority.
The good news is that the new contract is not the micromanagement nightmare of the old 100-page document. The former board and reforming Superintendent Jim Meza rightly felt that it was a dead weight on the aggressive changes needed to improve school performance in the district.
By and large, the changes pushed by Meza have worked, with school performance scores improving. Jefferson is now a B-rated district, when it was previously a D-rated system with 26 schools in danger of being taken over by the state’s Recovery School District.
That kind of improvement is valuable and must be continued.
Is the union contract going to be in the way of progress?
At four pages, the new contract for teachers does not go into the detail of the old, and board member Mike Morgan said the new pact is more flexible.
He said the previous contract created too much of an adversarial relationship between principals and their staffs, with teachers reflexively taking disagreements to their union representative. “Instead of working out issues at the schools, the first call was to the union,” he said.
That’s not what we want under a new contract, nor should parents and taxpayers.
One of Meza’s valuable emphases as superintendent was that principals were school leaders and not just administrators. A new contract does not necessarily get in the way of leadership, but we worry that it might.
The new agreement echoes language in the old one. It requires, for instance, that teachers be given three days’ notice before a non-emergency faculty meeting. It stipulates how teachers should arrive at school, leave, get paid and be disciplined.
The question is whether the slimmer version of the strait-jacket formerly imposed on Jefferson schools will work in a new and more challenging environment for public education.
Charter schools now have a foothold in the parish. While there is no law that they cannot be organized by teachers unions, the reality is that few are. That means they retain the flexibility in work rules and innovations in the organization of the school day that can and should be adopted by traditional schools.
If, we say, the contract does not get in the way.