Despite five months of negotiations, the Albuquerque Public Schools Board voted to file changes to the district’s negotiated agreement with the local teachers’ union Wednesday night.
Board members deliberated for several hours on how to make the contract changes, which would have bolstered commitments to pay many licensed educators the same as teachers, to implement restorative practices in schools, and to include language involving the freedom to teach educators.
The deal was eventually filed on a motion by Secretary Courtney Jackson. Jackson, Danielle Gonzales, Peggy Muller-Aragón and Crystal Tapia-Romero voted to drop the contract and Yolanda Montoya-Cordova, Barbara Petersen and Josefina Domínguez voted against.
“I can’t tell you how much I object to it,” board member Barbara Petersen said. “It’s not the board’s role to negotiate (the) contract, it’s an administrative duty… when you refuse, it’s a slap in the face.”
The board’s decision to file the deal came after Albuquerque educators resoundingly endorsed it earlier this month, and after the union noted it would have provided the biggest pay raises of the district’s history to many educators.
Albuquerque Teachers’ Federation president Ellen Bernstein said in a press release that these increases, which were proactively approved by the board earlier this summer, would be in jeopardy without board approval of all contract changes.
“Both negotiating teams would have to start all over again,” she said. “We would even be forced to renegotiate the increases previously approved by the board, as these are part of the larger agreement.”
Nathan Nieman, an attorney representing the district, said the filing could open a Pandora’s box for everyone involved.
“If the negotiated deal as presented to the board is not approved, I think the most likely outcome is that it will be sent to deadlock proceedings and there may be issues regarding the fact that the negotiation is taking place in good faith, in addition to other potential legal remedies, he said.
The most important element of the contract changes was the commitment to pay educational support providers such as counselors and nurses the same minimum wage as teachers, after many were left behind when increases were legislated for teachers and some counselors earlier this year.
The salary deal was approved earlier this summer, just ahead of the rest of the contract changes. Bernstein said it was done to “make sure people understand…we want to hold people back.”
Gonzales said his problem was not restorative justice, but making sure the deal complied with board policy. By extension, she added that there are important elements to consider when it comes to addressing wages and salaries.
She also refined language describing the right of educators to exercise professional judgment on academic matters within common state standards and other guidelines, arguing that research has shown that when teachers have the opportunity to choose educational materials, this results in lower quality education.
“I think we’re living in a la-la country if we think that professional judgment is actually working,” she said. “This is not the case.”
Bernstein disagreed, saying it’s better to “teach the kids before us” and give teachers some flexibility in standards-based education systems.
The agreement also includes a commitment to integrate social-emotional learning into school days and to implement restorative practices in the classrooms of each school. In the agreement, the union and the district said restorative practices, which include a range of different supports for students focused on respect and accountability, “contribute to a positive school climate.”
This in turn helps prevent bullying, reduce violence, increase attendance rates and academic achievement, promote student mental well-being and retain educators, they said.
Implementing restorative practices in schools would involve moving from in-school suspensions in middle and high schools to “student success centers,” developing conflict mediation programs, and possibly creating counseling councils. students to manage them.
Jackson pointed out that while negotiators had five months to work on the deal, the board only had five days to review it.
“Once again, we’re in a position where… there’s this pressure to do something that we, as a council, haven’t had a say in until now.” she declared.
Montoya-Cordova acknowledged that negotiators had “worked very hard to get to this point” and asked Bernstein for a few weeks so board members could “get our stuff together.”
“A stalemate is not in the best interests of this community, the district, our staff, or our children and families at all,” she said. “It’s not.”