Thursday, November 3, 2011

Bargaining and Calendars

This week I attended a two-day training on better negotiating techniques for school districts and their unions . For those who jump up and say "yeah, stick it to them!", you're about to be disappointed. The focus of the training isn't "stick it to them"- it's about aligning interests.

In traditional bargaining, each side opens with a position, then you argue over whose position makes more sense. It is very confrontational and adversarial. We've had plenty of that over the past few years. Interest Based Bargaining (or IBB for short) actually doesn't get to "positions" until the very end. You spend most of your time understanding what interests each side has. By understanding each other's interests, it should create flexibility to create solutions that address those interests in a more open, collaborative way.

I'm no Pollyanna, and I'm not crazy enough to think that our interests will always aligns. We answer to different constituencies, and our driving goals are not always aligned. But I hope that by understanding the drivers behind the scenes, the process may yield better results.

During the course, one of the examples that I talked about with the group was my recent "No" vote on a calendar change. Last spring, when we negotiated with the LATA for furlough days this year, we agreed to a clause that reinstated one of those days in November if certain financial conditions were met. That furlough day is in November, and it is a teacher in-service day, where our teachers will take part in professional development activities at their sites and as a district.

Frankly, when that was discussed, no one expected mid-year cuts from Sacramento. When the 'triggers' were hit and this landed on the Board agenda, I just couldn't support it. I voted 'No' on the calendar change that restored the furlough day.

I place a very high value staff development. Our district is great at creating exciting new ways to teach. Most times, those changes are piloted with a small group, and are rolled out across the district at in-service days such as the one we were discussing. However, I couldn't support restoring this day without understanding the broader picture of what might happen with the mid-year cuts.

Given the way information circulates, I'm sure most teachers heard that I voted "no", and chalked it up to me being a jerk, or not caring about their professional development. Nothing could be further from the truth. What I'd really prefer is a more flexible arrangement between us, where we could look at the broader picture and assess this specific restoration in the broader context of our overall finances. Lacking that flexibility, though, I had to do what I thought was best.

The motion passed 3-2 so this vote will fade into the background soon. However, it was an excellent example to discuss in the negotiations training course. I think that at least some of the teachers in the room better understood my motivations. I hope that in explaining how I'd prefer we work together in the future, it will spur us towards a more flexible process where we can adapt to issues as they arise. I'm sure the coming months will present us with plenty of opportunities to negotiate, and I look forward to collaborating with our employees to find new ways to solve the difficult problems I'm sure we will face.