Today was the “full force” rally by teachers and parents at the district office. I took the boys toward the end of the rally because I didn’t think they’d last the two hours. We apparently missed the Teamsters truck, but there were hundreds and hundreds of people.
It was a good opportunity for the boys to see the scale of this strike. We took Peanut to the parents’ rally after the court hearing on Wednesday, but by that time most folks had gone home. Today they saw the hundreds of teachers lining the streets on both sides and we talked about how this is really affecting a lot of people and not just the teachers at our school.
After the rally I was walking the boys to the car and my cell phone rang. On the other end was a friend of mine asking if I would be available in about 40 minutes to meet with a group of parents and Superintendent Vargas and the School Board President, Jim Berrios.
Haircuts rescheduled, throw the boys out the car window at grandma & grandpa’s, and I was there. Dressed for a rally on a hot afternoon rather than a meeting, but formality has never been a strong point of mine, anyway.
I’m too tired to edit my thoughts, so here are two versions of my thoughts on how it went: one brief, one loooooong first draft play-by-play.
Version One: Conversation good. Much talking and feeling like we got our point across. little.brain encouraged, maybe hopeful, but not convinced of puppies and sunshine to come.
Version Two: There were eight parents in attendance, along with Dr. Vargas and Mr. Berrios. This meeting, it was explained, was a result of an informal breakfast meeting the two administrators had had with a group of teachers who initially were picketing outside Mr. Berrios’ house this morning.
In that conversation, it was expressed that many parents were frustrated by the progression of events, and particularly by the injunction action taken by the district. Mr. Berrios and Dr. Vargas asked to be put in touch with one of those parents and invited them to sit down this afternoon.
(That parent invited a friend of mine, who also invited me, for anyone who’s keeping score.)
The simple fact of the dialogue that had taken place this morning spread through the rally like wildfire and had already sparked some curiosity and murmurs that things were changing in the tone of the negotiations.
We were told in our meeting that last night, through the Governor, the union had communicated that they basically had no confidence in the mediator sent by the state, and so this morning Dr. Vargas had made the necessary phone calls to bring in a new mediator. The teachers this morning also voiced the frustration of many teachers and parents for the reader boards at the schools (“Teacher work stoppage continues / No school until further notice”), and by 1:00 this afternoon many signs had already been changed to reflect a more neutral message.
We agreed that the number one issue for us, as parents, was the tone of the conversation taking place. In general, the parents communicated a perception that the district was being disrespectful and misleading in even the simplest communications, and that this was indicative of a much larger issue — one parent described it as a “chasm” — of mistrust and a lack of collaboration between the teachers and the administration.
This is a long-standing issue that both administrators acknowledged, and both gave several examples of actions already underway to begin to address this divide. One parent said that the Superintendent’s role was to champion a vision larger than any us vs. them culture.
One other major sticking point for us as parents was the district’s decision to file for the injunction — or, more specifically, the timing. Dr. Vargas explained that he was bound by his contract to make sure that the district adhered to state law, and that he had an obligation to file for the injunction. That seems reasonable, but one parent repeatedly asked why they made the decision to do it after only four days of negotiation. She said it really came across as the district saying they just weren’t interested in negotiating.
I, on the other hand, asked why they didn’t do it sooner, that if they had filed for an injunction the next day it would have been seen as an equal action in response to the union’s vote to strike, and whether or not you agreed with the action, it wouldn’t have been seen as an aggressive move the way that it was when it came four days after the beginning of the strike. I said that when they filed for the injunction, the bottom of that chasm we had been talking about dropped out completely.
One other interesting topic came up when we asked for clarification on the rumor that the district’s attorney, Chuck Lind, had asked in the injunction hearing that parents be restricted from striking. Dr. Vargas called him in to the room, and Mr. Lind explained that there was a portion of the motion by the district that detailed a request that the teachers be restricted from picketing. The KEA attorney had pointed out that the way this was written it could extend to anyone, including parents not associated with the KEA. Mr. Lind was asking for clarification on this motion, not asking that parents be restricted from exercising their first amendment rights.
Because my bag of tricks is not very deep, I pulled out another P-I story as an example in my last comment. One of the core values at the P-I was to defy gravity, that whatever other responsibilities one had to remain ethical, to be a watchdog, etc., one should not limit themselves according to what they thought they could and could not do.
I expressed to Dr. Vargas that, for me, little and not-so-little things like changing the wording of reader boards and arranging for new mediators were indicative of a greater opportunity for him to be a hero in this situation, and that if that change in tone extended to the negotiations and brought about a good resolution, there were teachers out on the picket line that would buy him a cape and a utility belt.
It was a good conversation, and I felt like our concerns were heard. I also feel I have a better understanding of the administration’s position, and hope they will be more deliberate in the tone of their communications. I’m not convinced that everything is changing, but I’m encouraged by at least the appearance of a change in direction.
I’m proud to support our teachers, and hope to see them back in their classrooms soon.