Wednesday, January 25, 2012

No Seat at the Table

The last time the Federation of Pottstown Teachers and the Pottstown School District sat down to bargain a contract, it took 20 months and a federal arbitrator to obtain a two-year contract that expires at the end of this school year.

During that process, union president Beth Yoder several times pleaded with the school board to attend negotiations and see for themselves what was going on there.

Negotiations are carried out by Solicitor Stephen Kalis, along with members of the administration, usually Business Manager Linda Adams and Assistant Superintendent Jeff Sparagana or Superintendent Reed Lindley.

They report back to the board on offers and the board votes.

Last week, new school board member Ron Williams, who spent many years as a professional negotiator, raised the idea of having a board member serve on the negotiating committee "as an observer."

But the idea didn't get very far.

School Board member Tom Hylton seconded Williams' motion, but mentioned he would prefer if the person sitting in on the negotiations was Williams, because of his professional background.

It wasn't long before the board adjourned to go into closed-door executive session, Kalis making the point that discussion of the matter could be considered strategy for collective bargaining -- one of the few board discussions from which the public can legally be excluded.
Then again, who would want to be at that table?

A short time later, they returned and Williams withdrew his motion without explanation.

Franklin Elementary School Teacher Lindi Vollmuth, who was at the Jan. 19 meeting representing the teacher federation, told the board she was "deeply disappointed" by their refusal to attend negotiating meetings.

"It's an issue of transparency, to have all three parties present when we talk about the largest body of employees in this district -- the educators themselves."

Vollmuth said she has been involved in teacher contracts for 20 years and said in the past, Pottstown has had school board members at the negotiating table.

In neighboring Pottsgrove School District, two board members routine sit at the negotiating table.

What do you think is the right path to follow?

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