Park City School District teacher contract negotiations begin
With teacher contract negotiations between the Park City Education Association and the Park City School District underway, both sides have identified a primary goal — rebuilding the trust severed during the previous round of talks in 2012 and 2013.
Those negotiations were contentious and took nearly 18 months, as the sides had difficulty finding common ground. Ember Conley, superintendent, said relationships need to be rebuilt and trust re-established.
"I think out of everything, that’s what I’m hoping for," said Conley, who became superintendent in 2013 and was not involved in those negotiations. "Whether perceived or actual, I think there were pockets of mistrust. I think that all of us are making a conscious effort to rebuild that and that takes time."
With repairing that trust in mind, the district and the Park City Education Association, which represents teachers, have agreed to participate in an interest-based approach this time. Instead of immediately keying on issues and bargaining positions, the parties begin by working together to understand the interests and motivations of each side.
"You’re trying to put yourself in the other person’s place and understand the rationale behind what’s being asked for and how it’s being asked," said Tim McConnell, human resources director for the district. "Then you try to come to some kind of a mutual decision based on some level of understanding and cooperation. How do you collaborate to get to an elegant solution based on all the challenges of trying to put together a compensation package?"
The parties were scheduled to complete the last of three interest-based bargaining training sessions moderated by an outside trainer on Tuesday.
Nancy Garrison, a member of the Park City Board of Education chosen to participate in the negotiations, said agreeing on the process is a key step to ensuring things go more smoothly than last time.
"Without a process that’s mutually agreed to, you can easily have someone go off the rails," she said. "It’s an emotional thing. I know that (the Park City Education Association) is representing their colleagues and they’re trying to do a really good job at that. And hopefully they know that the district is trying to manage resources responsibly. Hopefully there’s trust that that’s happening, and a process is what lets that happen."
Both sides agree that the process has been beneficial so far. Jim Fleming, co-president of the Park City Education Association, said getting into the mindset of focusing on interest-based statements rather than positional ones has been a challenge. But it’s allowed both sides to come to a better understanding of one another.
"We don’t want to repeat what happened in the past," he said. "That was an 18-month negotiation that was pretty adversarial. It’s better for the students, the parents, the community that we don’t go through something like that again. We want to start off in this interest-based process so it’s not adversarial."
As far as delving into the issues both sides see as important, that will come in time. Garrison and Fleming said on Monday they hoped some of those issues would be discussed in Tuesday’s training, but figuring out those details will happen over the next few months. Both sides have agreed not to speak publicly about the issues until then, in accordance with the interest-based process.
"When we share information publicly, it will be information we’ve both agreed we’re comfortable with sharing publicly," McConnell said. "Even just saying what are the issues. That’s a difficult thing for me to say at this time because we really haven’t gotten to a point where we’re talking about mutual issues or what each side’s interests are."
Conley did say that many of the issues she expects to discuss are not necessarily related to salary but rather to ensuring teachers are positioned to give students the best possible education and making sure morale throughout the district is strong.
Ed Mulick, co-president of the Park City Education Association, agreed that’s a crucial aspect. Morale sank during the previous negotiations, he said.
"It’s kind of like it’s a wet blanket on your back," he said. "It just hangs over your head. It doesn’t allow you to thrive. You can’t get that synergistic effect. That’s what you want in education."
Garrison said ensuring all parties develop faith in the system and in one another is crucial to the long-term success of the district, which suffers when tension arises.
"I see (the interest-based process) as creating a healthy, working learning community," she said. "The faculty and staff is one aspect of that, but it trickles down in really powerful ways. That’s why this is important."
The sides hope to have a licensed professional agreement, which outlines details such as the workday hours teachers are expected to be present among numerous other specifications, by mid-April, with a compensation agreement signed the following month. Mulick said he hopes the interest-based approach to relations continues after negotiations are completed.
"The commitment to the interest-based process is pretty high," he said. "It’s a process we can use for a lot of different things, not just through negotiations. Hopefully it will be a sustainable process."
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The Park City Board of Education is on track to place a bond on the ballot this fall to improve district facilities. The top priorities would be to put ninth grade in the high school, eighth grade in the middle school and to augment preschool offerings by expanding elementary schools.