Sunday, July 5, 2015

Parents Ask AAPS Board, Teachers' Union to Work on Agreement, Consider Mediation or Other Alternatives

Ann Arbor parent Steve Norton and a small work group have written a letter to the Ann Arbor Public Schools Board and to the Ann Arbor Education Association. It has been signed by a number of Ann Arbor parents--including me! I'm sure when you read it, you will agree with me that if more people had known about it, many more would have signed it.

*If you find yourself agreeing with the letter, but you didn't sign it, you should feel free to let the Board of Education and the AAEA (teachers' union) know how you feel! [One good way is to email them; another way is to share this on Facebook or Twitter. I'd suggest Instagram but I'm not sure it is all that photogenic...]

Steve wrote this to me in an email this morning:
This letter was the result of several weeks of work by a group of concerned AAPS parents who want to help repair the rupture between our district's leaders and our district's teachers. While the group recognizes the real financial concerns of the school board, it is very concerned that the highly confrontational strategy adopted by the Board is seriously undermining the confidence and morale of the very best teachers in our schools.
Central to the effort is an analysis of the legal situation by two attorney-parents, which shows that both sides would be better off in negotiations than waiting for an uncertain ruling by a court or administrative body. The group wants to offer the assistance of parents to help resume collaborative talks, and to remind both parties that, in the end, the schools need to serve the needs of the children and community.
The letter was delivered on 24 June to AAPS board Trustees, Superintendent Swift, AAEA President Linda Carter, and AAEA Executive Director George Przygodski. The group of signatories has received preliminary responses from a Board member and from AAEA, which give us some hope that we can help the parties resume productive discussions. We delayed publication of the letter as a courtesy to the parties, to allow them to absorb and possibly respond to our letter before it was made public. We are publishing the letter now because we believe this is a conversation which should engage the wider parent and teacher community.
Fair warning: Put some attorneys together and you won't get a short letter! It's long, and the link to the whole thing--including: a) the letter; b) the names of those who signed it; and c) the addendum (more detail)--is below.

Update July 5, 2015, a short note from Steve Norton: The workgroup which drafted the letter was convened by Steve Norton and Linh Song , and included some 20 parents and past parents who wanted to speak out on this issue. The group was assisted in understanding and assessing the current status of the contracts and the law surrounding teacher contracts by parents Vince Wellman, a law professor specializing in contract law, and Jack Panitch, an attorney in private practice with significant public sector experience.

Here is the link to the letter.

Here are a couple of excerpts.
As current school parents, we certainly value financial sustainability for our school district; annual budget crises and a decade of program cuts can and have diminished opportunities for our children, making it harder for our community to serve every child. We are very pleased with the renewed  optimism and opportunity in our school district. On the other hand, what really determines the  quality of our schools, and what means most to us as parents, is the quality, commitment and  dedication of the professionals who teach our children every day. Without their full enthusiasm, patience, and care, our school district would be nothing more than an empty shell—no matter how  stable its finances were.  
Parents are not insisting on any one solution. But we do insist that our schools’ elected officials and educators sit down and begin serious work on an agreement that, as much as possible, ensures that our teachers do not feel intimidated or disrespected while also protecting the stability of our schools  as an institution.  
We have become alarmed at the rupture that has occurred between our district’s leaders and educators. This is not mainly a disagreement over money: many teachers are feeling disrespected, hurt and betrayed. Nor are these feelings simply the product of rhetoric from a teachers’ union  engaged in a contract dispute. Recent steps by the Board of Education and district administrative leadership have done much to undermine hard-won goodwill, and we believe many of these steps are not only based on a false premise but are also profoundly unwise. 
The letter ends like this:

There is no question that our schools, as with all local public schools in Michigan, have been under tremendous financial and regulatory pressure in the last decade or more. We are determined to avoid  having a school district in constant financial peril with repeated increases in class size and cuts in  programming. 
At the same time, we as parents love and support our children’s teachers and react strongly to  anything that threatens to disrupt the countless amazing things that happen in our children’s  classrooms every day. 
Finally, we must all remember that we did not reach this point by accident. Laws, budgets and tax  policies have been crafted at the state level to foster precisely this kind of conflict. By continuing  an internal battle, we serve the interests not of our community but of those who wish to undermine community-governed public education. 
We urge you all, in the strongest possible terms, to step back from your legal maneuvering and begin  discussions about how to meet the needs of our children within the financial and legal constraints we  now face. We would be pleased to help you begin these discussions, and we encourage you to  consider some sort of mediation to foster a collaborative approach to finding solutions. 

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