FWEA/FWCS Contract Talks Reach Impasse

By Maureen Mespell
By Megan Trent

June 3, 2011 Updated Jun 3, 2011 at 6:39 PM EDT

UPDATED: FORT WAYNE, Ind. (Indiana’s NewsCenter) – Both sides are speaking out after the Fort Wayne Education Association (FWEA) declared an impasse with Fort Wayne Community Schools (FWCS) in bargaining talks Thursday.

Communication between the sides broke down after representatives were unable to agree on several key contractual points, and FWEA says they have requested a mediator from the Indiana Education Employment Relations Boards.

FWEA also says part of the reason for the breakdown in talks is that FWCS is seeking to gut the Master Contract for teachers while they are trying to preseve and protect several aspects of it.

FWEA Executive Director, Steve Brace, says, "The issue is not money, and it is not insurance. We can work through the money piece. The issue is support for teachers to do their job."

FWCS Superintendent Wendy Robinson says, "I don't have have two years to extend a contract that won't allow me to continue to educational reforms that will keep us from having our schools on a take-over list."

Union officials say they realize compromises will need to be made given the district's financial restraints.

They also say wording in the proposed FWCS contract would take away a teacher's right to remove disruptive students from their classrooms. However, Robinson says that teachers are given that right under state law, regardeless of wording within the contract.

Another key issue of debate is language in the proposed contract that would allow administrators to mandate that teachers attend all professional development sessions regardless of time, advanced notice, or compensation.

Robinson says you can't make people do anything they don't want to do, and administrators aren't going to put teachers in a difficult position. "That would not be logical to change how you've treated people over a 30 year career. The board has no desire to do that."

Brace says, "Their famous words are, 'We'll work with you.' Yeah, maybe you will at first, but as time goes on we all know how things like that work."

After July 1st, legislation restricting collective bargaining will go into effect, further limiting FWEA's ability to negotiate. They will no longer be able to discuss non-salary related items in the contract.

Both sides say they are willing to sit down and try to work something out, and Robinson says she is unwilling to get into a conflict with the union that will only tarnish the hard work that teachers have done over the past year.

FWEA and FWCS officials have released statements about the impasse.

FWEA officials had this to say Thursday evening:

"FWEA declares impasse with FWCS. Bargaining between the two sides broke down this afternoon.

FWEA will request a mediator from the Indiana Education Employment Relations Boards. There exists a wide gap between the sides as FWEA works to preserve some of the basic contractual rights of teachers for the next two years while FWCSseeks to gut the Master Contract. We have a history of collaboration and working together building a Master Contract for teachers and at the same time making significant gains in student achievement.

FWEA seeks to maintain basic contractual rights for teachers including the right to refer or remove disruptive students, release time for special education teachers to fulfill Case Conference obligations, and a fair grievance procedure."

FWCS officials sent out this statement Thursday evening in response:

"FWEA declared an impasse tonight in negotiations, and will ask the Indiana Education Employment
Relations Board to appoint a mediator. In a short negotiations meeting, FWEA presented a
counter-proposal to FWCS that maintained much of current contract language together with a 1% raise
and step increases for the next two years, for which there are no funds. Despite changes in state
law that prohibit deficit financing and remove contract language other than wages and wage-related
benefits for contracts entered into after June 30, FWEA would not agree to make the changes
necessary to move forward.

If no agreement is reached before June 30, there can be no contract language governing teacher
working conditions and the deficit financing prohibition may result in less money for teachers than
offered by FWCS. FWCS also proposed language that went beyond the new requirements under state law,
such as including a grievance procedure, but fit with our reform agenda and within our financial
constraints. That was insufficient for FWEA. It is unclear if IEERB will be able to assign a
mediator by June 30.

We obviously want to continue to have a relationship with our teachers because they are central to
what we are trying to get done, but we also have to be fiscally responsible. It's unfortunate
that when they asked us to come to the table tonight, they came prepared with a process to head to
impasse. Despite going to impasse, however, FWCS is still committed to making sure the education of
children is the central focus while the teacher leadership and administrators work this out."

To see the letter sent home to FWCS employees Friday afternoon, and the contract negotiation guidelines, please select the link under "Related Items."

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