Sunday, May 31, 2015

Labor Update: Unfair Labor Practices and the Michigan Employment Relations Commission Process

But first--one important PSA--the Ann Arbor schools updated their web site this weekend. It was long planned because the web site has been rather hard to navigate and I hope this improves things. But also, I've been made aware that many of my blog links have been lost. This includes recent links I put up about negotiations. Boo. I am sorry, and I hope to recover some of them.

Now, back to negotiations:

1. The Ann Arbor Education Association (teachers' union) filed an unfair labor practices charge against the school district. Per their press release:
The AAEA is filing three charges against the district: 
1. The superintendent interfered and coerced AAEA members by communicating with them directly concerning the contract dispute.
2. The superintendent interfered with the administration of the AAEA by directly communicating with AAEA members concerning her interpretation of the actions taken by AAEA leadership.
3. The District repudiated the AAEA contract by maintaining that some sections are unenforceable or invalid, additionally claiming that the contract will expire June 30, 2015, and refusing to bargain over the International Baccalaureate Programme.

2. The school district responded by filing an unfair labor practice charge against the AAEA. I haven't seen the charges.

3. I asked a friend who is a labor lawyer what happens, generally speaking, with these unfair labor practices that go to the Michigan Employment Relations Commission. My friend wrote:

Generally, the case will be assigned to an administrative law judge. The respondent [the district, for the AAEA's charge, and vice versa] could file a motion to dismiss the charge. The ALJ, if he or she doesn't grant the motion would then hold a hearing. The hearing could last several days. The parties would present testimony and exhibits, which would be subject to cross examination. In addition the ALJ may ask questions. In lieu of closing statements, parties typically file a post hearing brief and submit them several weeks after the hearing. It could take months, and sometimes up to a year to get a ruling from the ALJ. That is, briefly, the process.  
So then I asked: So in the meantime does that halt the termination of contract timeline? Assuming that is one of the charges being contested... 

I don't believe the filing of a ULP can halt the proceedings in any way. Either party could file for a preliminary injunction, to maintain the status quo until the ULP is heard and decided. It is a pretty high standard. Whether a preliminary injunction should be issued is determined by a four-factor analysis: 1. harm to the public interest if an injunction issues; 2. whether harm to the applicant in the absence of a stay outweighs the harm to the opposing party if a stay is granted; 3. the strength of the applicant’s demonstration that the applicant is likely to prevail on the merits; and 4. demonstration that the applicant will suffer irreparable injury if a preliminary injunction is not granted.

4. So as things stand now, the district will implement as if the contract has terminated on June 30th. That means wages will stay the same as now (which is part of what the district has been after--they were scheduled to rise July 1). I guess (not sure about this) if the district loses, they would be responsible for paying the teachers back. I guess that's a risk they are willing to take. Since my labor lawyer friend says these things move kind of slowly, that could potentially be months of back pay...

5. See these signs? These are in support of Ann Arbor teachers and the union. They are not just for teachers! You can get one too.

UPDATE 6/1/2015: Get the signs at the Michigan Education Credit Union, 4141 Jackson Rd.

Consider subscribing to Ann Arbor Schools Musings by Email!

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Take Action on State School Aid Fund Today!

I just got this from Michigan Parents for Schools:

Dear Friends,
Once again, we wait to see what kind of funding our community K-12 schools will receive next year. All we have to go on are the three alternate plans produced earlier this yearOnce again, we wait for key lawmakers to emerge from secret talks in the proverbial "smoke-filled rooms" and tell us what's best for our schools. It's been a long time since parents have had a direct voice in those talks. But here we are - we are watching, and we vote.
Since it's hard to know what details are being negotiated, it's hard for us to advocate for one thing over another. We know that there will be no "surprise bump" in school aid revenue next year, which in recent years has allowed the legislature to appear generous at the last minute. So maybe it's time that we set down what we believe and what we want for our schools.
1) It's time to stop re-slicing the school funding pie, and instead make sure the pie is large enough for schools to do what we want them to do. Every school district should see its funding keep up with rising costs, and at a very minimum keep up with inflation. None of the three earlier budget proposals would do this. We need to restore the cuts made to school aid over the last decade, and we need to do so in a fair way.
2) Equal isn't always equitable. Some students need more help than others, and we need to make sure our schools can give all students the help they need. Our school funding system should offer more help where it's needed, and not at the expense of goal #1 above.
3) We know there are meaningful steps that can be taken to improve all schools. We've been discussing some measures to help all children become enthusiastic readers and others to provide the professionals who teach our children with feedback and support to refine their craft. And we don't just mean more testing. Whatever programs we choose as a state must be based on solid research and need to have their costs covered by increased funding - not by carving out existing funds.
4) Lastly, we've been flying blind for years, setting state school funding without checking to see if it was adequate. There is a law on the books which will require the state to conduct a study to see what it costs for schools to do everything we're asking of them. Our leaders should have the courage to perform that study, and not sweep it under the rug as some have recently suggested.
These are our basic principles. There is a lot of detail behind them, but this list covers the core ideas. Let's send a message to our lawmakers - it's time to stop playing clever games with school funding and instead do right by the children and communities of this state!
Thanks for making a difference,
Steve Norton
Michigan Parents for Schools

allows you to TAILOR your message to state legislators. Please take action!

Consider subscribing to Ann Arbor Schools Musings by Email!

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

AAEA To File Unfair Labor Practice Charge, Asks for Parent/Citizen Support

Tonight, while I was on my way to the Community High School Communicator banquet (follow the link to see their great work), the Ann Arbor Education Association was setting up for a press conference, where they announced that they are going to file an Unfair Labor Practice charge against the Ann Arbor schools.

Linda Carter, AAEA President, began her remarks (as distributed to the press), like this:

I stand here today with my fellow teachers, gathered in unity to voice our shared concern about the future of the Ann Arbor Public Schools. We believe the superintendent and the Board of Education have embarked upon a path which will at the very least damage, if not destroy, this school district.  We will file an Unfair Labor Practice charge on behalf of our students who deserve professional, high quality, fairly compensated teachers in their classrooms.
After taking several pay cuts in recent years to keep the district afloat, teachers were shocked and saddened when our Superintendent, Dr. Jeanice Swift, and the Board of Education threatened to terminate our contract if we failed to bargain a new one in 60 days.
Making matters worse, the Board introduced three new policies at last week’s board meeting that align with our State Legislature in Lansing—policies that are out-of-step with our community’s values and remove job protections critical to teacher success and strong educational outcomes.
Teachers don’t understand why our Superintendent and board are taking such aggressive actions against us, especially in light of the sacrifices we have made in recent years.

Carter also asserted, "We have been in continuous, collaborative problem solving conversations every month of this school year.  And in the past two weeks, district officials have met twice at our invitation--in our union offices--to discuss our contract.  We even met last Thursday, May 21st--the same day the Superintendent sent an email claiming we weren’t willing to meet."

You can read the full text of Carter's remarks here.
You can read the AAEA's press release here.

[And if you are looking for the "other side," the district has an FAQ page about negotiations here.]

If you want to read actual contracts language of the various contracts, you can read it here.

The teachers' union is asking supporters to write letters to the school board and superintendent (

My friend Bev Davidson offered her letter as a template if you are looking to write a letter. It's long! So I am pasting part of it in below, and then I link to the entire letter. You should feel free to borrow from this letter, or to write your own, with your own thoughts.

To the Board of Education and Dr. Swift,
I am a parent of two children in the Ann Arbor Public Schools.  I am grateful that we have the opportunity to live and work in such a rich community, and that our children can be educated by dedicated and hard-working teachers in our school system.  Our school district has a solid reputation of providing innovative educational opportunities, and of having exemplary teachers.  I am concerned that the recent discussions between the Superintendent and the Board of Education and the teachers is creating a negative climate that will ultimately only hurt our children.  

Much has been reported to the media by the Superintendent about the need to be fiscally responsible and protect and manage the school budget, and that there is a need to open the teachers contract and negotiate even more pay cuts.  I find this tactic by the Superintendent to be disingenuous.  Teachers in our district have agreed to take pay cuts in 2010, 2013, and 2014 for the sake of the school district.  Since 2010, the teachers have given the AAPS over $10 million through these major concessions.  The District made a promise to the teachers in 2010 to provide $4.5 million to the salary schedule for agreed upon concessions.  Until that promise is fulfilled, the contract remains in effect and enforceable.  The District has not made part or all of that payment to the teachers.

Our teachers have more than fulfilled their end of the agreements with integrity, fidelity, and transparency. Further, the DIstrict has not honored the last 2 one-year Memorandum of Agreements.  Instead they have threatened the teachers with "the nuclear clause" (10.118) to get out of promises they made to restore the concessions to the teachers in 2013 and again in 2014.  Since the district has increased revenue this school year, they cannot use the "nuclear clause," rather, the District is now engaging in anti-teacher and anti-union rhetoric and propaganda to shape public opinion and bully teachers into bargaining.   

We all know that public schools are hurting due to budget issues, and this is not because of union contracts and teachers salaries.  We all know that the way our state funds public schools is archaic and unfair, and that the state legislature and our Governor is on a mission to dismantle public schools.  I am saddened and disheartened that our elected board members and Superintendent are engaging in such similar tactics and trying to impinge on worker's rights and effectively destroy our beloved school district by blasting our teachers and their lack of commitment to our children.  I also find it disrespectful that our Superintendent sends an email to parents which blames the teacher's union for not coming to the bargaining table and pitting parents against teachers.  There is no need for that kind of information, true or not true, to be sent to parents.  Bargaining rights and union-administration negotiations should be kept at the bargaining table.

The letter continues here.
Citizens of Ann Arbor--I encourage you to get educated and stay engaged!

Consider subscribing to Ann Arbor Schools Musings by Email!

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Confused? Just When Exactly Does the Ann Arbor Teachers' Contract End?

If you've been paying attention to the dispute over the Ann Arbor Education Association--Ann Arbor Public Schools teacher contract, then you might be as confused as I was regarding when the contract actually ends. 

On the one hand, the school district is saying that the contract ends this June 30, 2015

And on the other hand, the teachers' union is saying that no, the contract does not end this year! 

And I was left wondering--how can something like a contract end date be in dispute? Well, here's how.

Which of these things do you believe?

A. When the teachers signed a one-year agreement  about their financial compensation last year, they were agreeing to an end date of June 30, 2015 for the contract. [Note: If you follow the link you will see that the agreement does call for meeting in March 2015 for "problem-solving to discuss finances" but does not have a specified end date.]

B. When the teachers "gave back" 4.5 million dollars to the district in 2010, and wrote in the contract that the contract would not end until the money was paid back, the contract became an "evergreen" clause (non-terminating) until the money is paid back. [Note: If you follow the link you can read item "Salary Scale IIE" in the "Tentative Agreement between AAEA and AAPS For a Successor Agreement Extending the 2009-2011 Master Agreement." Also note, the money has not been paid back.]

C. A contract without an end date can be terminated by either party with 60-days notice. [Note: Around April 30, 2015, the district sent a letter to the AAEA saying that they believe that a "perpetual contract" can be terminated with sixty days notice.]

D. The current contract runs through the 2015-2016 fiscal year (ending June 30, 2016). [Note: This is specified in the agreement from March of 2013:]

If you agree with A. or C., you are taking, effectively, the position of the district.

If you agree with B. or D., you are taking, effectively, the position of the AAEA.

I'm not an attorney (and I don't even play one on t.v.), but I understand that both sides think that they are right.

And in fact, what makes this so important is not simply, as you might think, financial compensation--but rather, the effect of "right-to-work" and several other anti-teachers/anti-union bills that have passed our state legislature in the past two years.

I've talked to quite a few people about the negotiations now (all of them knowledgeable, and all of them asked to be "off the record,") and--no surprise really--there are some other things in dispute as well. 

For example: 

The teachers and the district were negotiating a Memorandum of Agreement about staffing for the International Baccalaureate of the parties--or both of the parties--pulled out when the MOA was nearly final. Who? and Why?

The "prohibited subject policies" were put on the school board agenda for a first briefing in the middle of May (here is the link to them, read the comments for an explanation of what they are). Were they put on the agenda because the state requires it? Because the school board can (but doesn't have to) do it? Because the administration and school board were mad at the AAEA for asserting that the contract doesn't end in June and the AAEA doesn't have to negotiate?

No, don't bother writing your opinion on those in the comments--I can say that there is more than one opinion about each of these.

With negotiations, you can't always see what's going on, but you always get to hear the pronouncements of both sides. Which reminds me of shadow puppets. You might (or might not--my husband says, not so much) think that this shadow looks like a duck. (My shadow puppets are a bit rusty.)

Yup, my "duck." Photo by Michael Appel.

And if it walks like a duck, and it quacks like a duck...but no, it's really a hand after all.

Yup, my hand. Photo by Michael Appel.

Pay attention to the hand, not the shadow.

Consider subscribing to Ann Arbor Schools Musings by Email!

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Coda: Process Errors in My "Honeymoon is Over" Post

In writing my post about how the "honeymoon" is over (read it here), I got a lot of positive feedback--especially from teachers, who said, "Right on!" The teachers who contacted me felt that it mirrored very closely their lived experience.

But I also think I might have missed the mark in a three ways.

First, I think that some people might have read the post as violating one of my core blog rules, posted on the right hand side of my blog: "All are welcome to comment, but please be respectful, and assume that everyone wants the best for the schools." And for me, that approach is supposed to extend beyond the comments section, and into my blogging itself. If it came across to you that I don't believe that the superintendent or school board wants the best for the schools, then I am truly sorry--because I believe that Dr. Jeanice Swift, and every school board member, DOES want the best for the schools.

Second, perhaps I should have asked for a reaction from Dr. Swift before posting my piece, so I could have given her the chance to respond. I don't say that because I think my blog needs to be "balanced" or "neutral" in the classic newspaper way--I don't think it does. In fact I think my best blogging happens when I write from a point of view. However, I end the post by saying that "process matters," and if I believe that, then maybe I should myself be modeling better process and opportunities for airing disagreements. [And--if we're contrasting past and present here, I can say that former Superintendent Dr. Pat Green never answered my emails, and Dr. Swift always answers them.]

Third, from a comment that somebody made about how parents "can send her packing," I think some people might have inferred that I want to start a campaign to get rid of Dr. Swift.

So to set the record straight: That is not true.

I think that Dr. Swift has done a really good job on a lot of things for the Ann Arbor Public Schools. As I say in the first post,
Some notable successes--she got the principals of Roberto Clemente and Ann Arbor Tech to work together; turned Northside into Ann Arbor STEAM; got the school board to open seats to schools of choice, and also attracted a lot of Ann Arbor residents back into the schools. The number of students in the district grew significantly, and that allowed the budget to grow as well.
In her first year, I think we saw a marked shift from a culture of "No we can't" to a culture of "Yes we can." I appreciate her energy, her hard work, and her interest in all facets of the district, Many (not all) of the current issues can be attributed to the fact that there are fiscal constraints, which we ignore at our peril. 

Do I see Jeanice Swift as a strong booster of the Ann Arbor Public Schools? Absolutely yes.

Do I agree with her (or the school board) on everything? Clearly not

At the same time, that does not mean I think it's time to "send her packing."

No, I want to convince her (and the school board) that I am right and she is (they are) wrong. :)

We cannot be like the queen in Alice in Wonderland, who--whenever she didn't like someone (Alice)--cried, 

No, I want to convince her (and the school board) that I am right and she is (they are) wrong. :)

I want us to be a community where we can disagree and model conversations about these disagreements. 

That's why I want a transparent process. I realize that union negotiations can make that difficult, but ultimately I think we help ourselves if we make discussions about disagreements public, open, and honest.

Look for a post next week where I try to make that happen.

Consider subscribing to Ann Arbor Schools Musings by Email!

Thursday, May 14, 2015

It's A Zero-Sum Situation ($$$$$)

People seem to appreciate knowing more about the context for the discussions about union-administration relations for the Ann Arbor Public Schools.

You'll find the AAPS budget page here, and it's worth a look.

And the number one context piece is this: when it comes to school funding, it's (at best) a zero-sum situation.

The Ann Arbor Public Schools per-pupil funding for the 2014-2015 budget was $9,133 per pupil. In 2002-2003, it was $9,181. That's right, the current funding is less than the funding from twelve years ago. [In my parents' district in New  York, per pupil funding is more than double this number, and they are not at the top of the districts in their county!]

Per-pupil funding for AAPS, taken from the 2014-2015 budget.

Looking at the coming year(s), 
this financial situation does not seem to improve. 

And obviously--expenses continue to rise. Most particularly, retirement expenses (which are centralized through the state and charged to districts, and the districts do not control) continue to take a bigger and bigger bite out of the district's budget.

Even though the reason AAPS has higher per-pupil funding is because we have always supported our schools financially; even though we are a "donor district" and give much of the money that we collect to the rest of the state...
the state legislature continues to give token, if any, increases to districts like Ann Arbor (because we already get "so much" and it's "inequitable"), and disproportionate increases to charter and online schools.

Projections for next year are that any increases we see will not keep up with the cost of inflation, even without restoring teacher pay.

From the point of view of the administration and the school board, it's not a fiscally sound decision to raise teachers' salaries (even if they are not paid enough now), and several districts that are currently in deficit have gone down the road of spending that doesn't match income. The AAPS school board and administration are trying to avoid that.

And some people (me, among others, though I link here to Chris Savage's blog), fear that the defeat of Proposal 1 will be seen as by the legislature as an opportunity to grab more money from the school aid fund.


When we talk about the school budget, and the value of teachers and other school staff (teacher's aides, secretaries, principals...)...yes, and yes.

They are both important.

But financially, we're in a zero-sum game. If individual teachers get paid more, it is likely that we will have larger class sizes. But reducing class sizes is a proven way to improve achievement, and I think our class sizes now are plenty large enough.

That is the reality. Money, money, money.

Feel a bit stuck? I do.

And by the way--a good way to keep on top of what is happening at the state level is to visit, and subscribe to, the updates from Michigan Parents for Schools, And a good thing to do is to work with Michigan Parents for Schools to advocate at the state level.

Consider subscribing to Ann Arbor Schools Musings by Email!

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Major Changes in Ann Arbor Schools Policies Again Put on Agenda at the Last Minute

Someone just alerted me to three new proposed policies, named the "prohibited subjects policies," that have been placed on tonight's board agenda, but were only placed there this afternoon...

I find the substance of the policies a bit shocking (although I assume they are influenced in some way by Michigan's right-to-work law, but I don't know much about the ins and outs of the law). But what is really shocking is that they are being added to the agenda at the last minute, especially given their content.

You can always look at the agenda and policies of the Ann Arbor schools board on BoardDocs, but if you were to look at them yesterday, you wouldn't (it seems) know what would be on the agenda tonight.

Here is the link to the proposed policies, but I'm just going to paste them in below as well, on the theory that most people will not click on the link. They're not that long....

First Briefing means there is still time to let the Board of Education know what you are thinking:

Policy #1:
Book AAPS Policies & Regulations Section 4000: Human Resources Title Placement of Teachers Number 4800 Status DRAFT Legal MCL §423.215(3)G).
The Superintendent or designee shall determine teacher placement based on qualifications (as defined by the District, which shall include but not be limited to state and federal requirements such as certification, highly qualified requirements, endorsements, etc.), the academic needs and best interest of District students, and the District's educational program. At all times, the District shall strive to place the most effective and qualified teachers in assignments aligned with student and District needs. Decisions about teacher placement, and the impact of such decisions on the individual teacher or the bargaining unit, shall not be the subject of any terms or conditions within a collective bargaining agreement between the District and a collective bargaining representative of such teachers. The Superintendent or designee may develop and adopt administrative regulations related to teacher placement. This policy supersedes all other policies on this issue.

Policy #2:
Book AAPS Policies & Regulations Section 4000: Human Resources Title Performance Evaluation Systems Number 4810 Status DRAFT Legal MCL 423.215(3)(!) MCL 38.93, as amended by Public Acts 100, 101 and 102, effective July 19, 2011 MCL 38.83a MCL 380.1248 MCL 380.1249, as amended by Public Act 257, effective June 30, 2014
The Ann Arbor Public Schools is responsible for the employment and supervision of all personnel. The District shall comply with Section 1249 of the Revised School Code, as amended from time to time, which mandates the inclusion of certain components within the District's performance evaluation system for teachers and school administrators who are regularly involved in instructional matters. Pursuant to Section 1249, the District shall: Adopt and implement for all teachers and school administrators a rigorous, transparent, and fair performance evaluation system. Evaluate the job performance of teachers and administrators using multiple rating categories that take into account data on student growth as a significant factor. Provide timely and constructive feedback to teachers and administrators regarding their job performance. Establish clear approaches to measuring student growth and provide teachers and school administrators with relevant data on student growth. Use the evaluations to inform its decisions on: the effectiveness of teachers and school administrators; promotion, retention, and development of teachers and school administrators, including providing relevant coaching, instructional support, and professional development; whether or not to grant tenure or full certification to teachers and school administrators; removing ineffective tenured and untenured teachers and school administrators. The District shall also comply with the requirements of the Michigan Teachers' Tenure Act with respect to the evaluation of teachers, as applicable. Decisions regarding the development, content, standards, procedures, adoption, and implementation of performance evaluation systems, and decisions about the content of performance evaluation systems, and the impact of such decisions on the individual employee or the applicable bargaining unit, shall not be the subject of any terms and conditions within a collective bargaining agreement between the District and a collective bargaining representative of its employees. The Board of Education delegates to the Superintendent or designee, the responsibility for taking appropriate action, including developing administrative regulations as needed, to adopt and implement a rigorous, transparent, and fair performance evaluation system in compliance with Section 1249. This policy supersedes all other policies on this issue.

Policy #3:
Book AAPS Policies & Regulations Section 4000: Human Resources Title Teacher Discipline, Demotion, or Dismissal Number 4820 Status DRAFT Legal MCL §423.215(3)(m MCL §§38.71-191

Teachers whose employment is regulated by the provisions of MCL §§38.71 through 38.191, inclusive, shall be disciplined, demoted or dismissed only for a reason that is not arbitrary or capricious. The Superintendent or designee shall ensure that decisions regarding the discipline, demotion and dismissal of teachers whose employment is regulated by MCL §§38.71 through 38.191 are consistent with this policy and the legal authority cited above. Decisions about the development, content, standards, procedures, adoption and implementation of a policy regarding discharge or discipline of a teacher, or the impact of those decisions on an individual teacher or the bargaining unit, shall not be the subject of any terms and conditions within a collective bargaining agreement between the District and a collective bargaining representative of its employees. The Superintendent or designee may develop and adopt administrative regulations that detail the standards or procedures for the discipline, demotion, and/or dismissal of teachers subject to this policy. This policy is applicable to teachers and school administrators whose employment is subject to section 1 of article l of the Michigan Teachers' Tenure Act. This policy supersedes all other policies on this issue.

Consider subscribing to Ann Arbor Schools Musings by Email!

Dear Dr. Swift, The Honeymoon Is Over

For the first year and a half of Dr. Swift's employment as the Ann Arbor Public Schools Superintendent, I heard almost entirely positive reviews. She had her "Listen & Learn" tour, she learned a lot from that, and she proposed new programs and ideas. Some notable successes--she got the principals of Roberto Clemente and Ann Arbor Tech to work together; turned Northside into Ann Arbor STEAM; got the school board to open seats to schools of choice, and also attracted a lot of Ann Arbor residents back into the schools. The number of students in the district grew significantly, and that allowed the budget to grow as well. If the custodians' jobs were cut along the way, I think the thought went, that was just a casualty of the times.

All this was in stark contrast to her predecessor, Pat Green, whose honeymoon lasted about 3 months, and whose focus in budget cycles was to thumb her nose at parents, propose cuts that managed to tick off a lot of people without likely saving any money (remember the idea of cutting middle school Athletic Directors), and generally share a negative vibe.

Recently though, while going back through other things that I had written, I was startled to see the headline of a piece I wrote in February 2014 for the Ann Arbor Chronicle. Titled Good Ideas, Flawed Process, the subheading said: "New superintendent brings positive proposals, but Ann Arbor Public Schools board violates its own policies, undermines public process." 

At the time I thought that this had a lot to do with her newness on the job and to the community, and hey--good ideas make all the difference, right? Well, maybe not.

And now I think I can say, with full confidence: "Dear Dr. Swift, the honeymoon is over."

Let's look at three areas, all of which concern me--as well as a lot of other parents and teachers.

1. Testing: in particular, M-STEP Testing.
As you know, the M-STEP (or, as I prefer to call it, the MIS-Step) is the state-mandated test that robs teaching time, robs computer lab time, and does not replace any of the other tests that are already being given (NWEA MAP, SRI, ACT, WorkKeys, regular final exams, to name just a few...). It's quite a bit longer than the MEAP that it replaced. For those of us who already thought there was too much testing, well, this doesn't help matters.

Parents have the right to refuse this test for their children, but administrators have been nervous about potential implications for the district (at least for this year and next, likely none).

An email from the Superintendent implying that parents don't have the right to refuse this test, when they do, got a lot of parents hot under the collar--even parents who were happy to have their kids take the tests.

For myself, I wasn't surprised that the Superintendent was supporting the test (that's her job), but I was disappointed that she wasn't following the lead of Rod Rock, the Clarkston Superintendent who (with the chair of the Clarkston PTA, Ariana Bokas) wrote a wonderful op-ed in Bridge magazine about better ways to approach testing. Read it here.

2. International Baccalaureate schools: Huron, Scarlett, Mitchell

In the coming years, the Scarlett, Mitchell, and Huron schools are supposed to become International Baccalaureate schools. This is one of the ideas that came out of the first round of the Listen and Learn tour. To teach in an IB school, you need a certain type of training--and the whole "teach in an IB school" thing is really not for every teacher.

Past magnets and school openings have developed teacher staffing in different ways. Skyline's staffing plan was developed through a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) with the teachers' union; A2Steam's staffing was developed as a "pilot," which means that teachers there don't have certain union work rules or protections for a certain period of time.

And let's note that A2Steam is a much smaller program than the combined programming of Mitchell, Scarlett, and Huron (together well over 2000 students).

According to my sources, the teachers' union and the Superintendent's representatives were meeting monthly all of this year to develop an MOA around the IB staffing, and the union apparently thought that MOA was going to go to the board for approval. At the last minute, they found out that the Superintendent was ignoring the MOA, and bringing a proposal for a pilot program to the school board. The pilot proposal passed the school board unanimously, and I have no idea whether the school board knew in advance of the vote (I'm sure they know now) that the AAEA felt they had been dealt with duplicitously...that they had been bamboozled. And part of the teachers' question was, "Why act as if you were going to bring the MOA forward...why waste our time over the past year...if you never planned to do that."

3. Teachers as Professionals

All of that sets the tone for some additional conflict.
Last year, teachers agreed to take a "one-time" pay rollback. [Although why anybody thought things would be better financially this year, with our current legislature, is a bit beyond me.]
So now this year, the district would like to reopen the contract (so they can extend these pay savings) and the union has just said no, thank you.

And that's at least partly because of the issues with the IB pilot, above.
And a refusal to negotiate over pay will likely threaten the school budget solvency, and that's not good.

But there's another issue, and it's one that concerns me a bit more.
Several teachers that I have spoken with have told me that they--or other teachers they work with--have been implicitly threatened, in both subtle and not-so-subtle ways, for speaking out at school board meetings, for speaking to school board members, for writing on social media, and even for sharing their opinions about testing in meetings where there were only teachers and administrators.

This does not sit well with me at all.

If teachers are professionals, let's treat teachers like professionals.

In a recent letter to teachers, the Superintendent wrote:

Unlike what has been stated in the media, the teachers of this district are respected and affirmed both by the district leadership and the families of Ann Arbor.  Unfortunately, the state leadership continues to devalue public education and as a result, each of us must continue to call for changes in legislation and leadership to reflect the funding that is needed and deserved to adequately support our schools.  At the same time, we do not create good will for public education with hostile attacks on the district. Public attacks on the new programs that our community values and that our teachers have so competently developed ultimately harms everyone.  (Emphases added.)

While some people might read this as relatively innocuous, many teachers don't feel respected or affirmed by the district leadership right now. And in the context of the subtle and not-so-subtle threats that teachers have experienced or heard about, many of them are reading this as a warning not to criticize the IB program or any other new programs. And the irony is, for the most part the criticisms are not about the programs themselves, but about the way the program will be staffed, and about why and how teachers will have to reapply for jobs...for the teachers that I've talked to, this did not feel like much of a Teacher Appreciation Week.

4. Tonight's Board Meeting

Tonight's Board meeting (Wed. 5/13/2015) starts at 7 p.m. and has been moved to Forsythe Middle School because a crowd is expected. It should be interesting.

5. Process Matters

Dear Dr. Swift--

There is still time to turn this around. You are rightfully concerned about the district's finances. You are rightfully developing new and exciting programs.

But you have to see parents and teachers, and teachers' aides, and secretaries, and principals--all of them, all of us--as partners.

The end does not justify the means. We need transparency and we need good will.

Process matters. I mean that both ways--process does matter, and also--let's discuss matters of process.

And now, please read the coda to this post (think of it as part II), which I wrote on 5/16/2015.

Consider subscribing to Ann Arbor Schools Musings by Email!

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

When the Custodians Were Cut, Where Were We?

Those of you who know me outside of my blog may have heard that my daughter Lior, a sophomore at Tufts University in Boston, is the president of the Tufts Labor Coalition. The Tufts Labor Coalition (TLC) has spent most of this year working on the unionization of adjunct faculty, and the preservation of custodial positions as the University switches contractors and decides to have fewer custodians (approximately 1 in 6 custodians' jobs would be cut) to cover an expanding number of university buildings.

TLC has been working with the custodians' union, the SEIU. In the past week TLC and the SEIU held a rally and a protest where several students were (intentionally) arrested in an act of civil disobedience. This week, students are hunger striking. I'm not a big fan of hunger strikes, but there have been articles in the Boston Globe, New York Times, In These Times, television, radio programs like Democracy Now, Huffington Post, and more.

[You can follow them on twitter @tuftslabor or on Facebook at the Tufts Labor Coalition page.]

Lior is on the administrative liaison team. Here she is (bottom right)
going in to meet with the administration. Note the banner the students
have hung at the top of the stairs. Photo from @tuftslabor.

I like this picture, because it names how many families
and lives will be affected. Photo from @tuftslabor. 

All of which brings me back to what I was thinking.
Last year at this time, the Ann Arbor school district was outsourcing and eliminating custodians' jobs.
[Read: Here and here.]

Where were we?

When my older son was in second grade, he and his friend decided to have a contest to see who could drink the most water. Not surprisingly, they drank a little too much, with predictable results. The custodian cleaned up their vomit--and though we made them apologize to the custodian then, I don't really think that's the thanks, or the apology, the custodians needed.

Where were we, parents?
Where were we, teachers?
Where were we, students?
Where were we, principals & secretaries?

Where were we, citizens?

And this plagues me now, as I have heard recently that several custodians are dealing with foreclosures and evictions.

Why is it that a relatively small group of students at Tufts can make a big deal about 35 lives, and we couldn't even lift a finger?

OK...I did lift a finger. Ten, actually, but only on my keyboard.

June 2014 story

April 2010 story

Consider subscribing to Ann Arbor Schools Musings by Email!

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Yes, I Am Supporting Proposal 1--Join Me!

Three reasons that I am supporting Proposal 1:

1. Roads--I'd rather pay to fix the roads, than I would to fix my car. I figure bent axles, busted tires--it will end up costing about the same.

2. Restoration of the 
Earned Income Tax Credit--this provides some relief from taxes to low income families struggling to get by.

3. School Aid Fund--the restrictions on the School Aid Fund mean it is less likely to get raided. People who know seem to think that if this passes, there will likely be some relief to schools via the school retirement funds (which currently suck a huge amount of money out of the per-pupil school funding).

Oh, and here is a fourth reason:

Although this is a very imperfect proposal, I am pretty convinced that whatever the legislature cooks up next may address the roads, but will be much, much worse for poor families and schools.

Read more on Ballotpedia (neutral information)

Follow more links and articles at the Michigan Association of School Administrators information page (they are supporting the proposal)

What else is on the ballot? In Ann Arbor, there is a schools bond renewal.

And yes, I am also supporting Ann Arbor's proposed bond renewal.

Consider subscribing to Ann Arbor Schools Musings by Email!