School workers set 'no-confidence' vote on superintendent

By Tom Vogt, Columbian science, military & history reporter

Published:

 

Vancouver public school employees distributed ballots to members Tuesday, setting the stage for a “no confidence” vote in Superintendent Steve Webb.

About 140 members of the Vancouver Association of Education Support Professionals (VAESP), mired in a contract dispute with the district, approved the proposal to conduct a building-by-building vote this week.

The VAESP represents more than 600 clerical workers, school secretaries, tech assistants and paraprofessionals who work with students. Votes must be turned in Friday morning.

Several members of the Vancouver Education Association, which represents the district’s teachers, also attended the one-hour meeting at the Water Resources Education Center.

If the school workers do approve a no-confidence vote against Webb, it would be a public-relations move.

“There is no legal action, but it is a shout-out to the community,” said Lynn Davidson, regional UniServ union representative for the VAESP.

“It’s not about the superintendent’s leadership; it’s about a labor dispute,” Missy Hallead, Vancouver’s executive director of human resources, said later Tuesday evening.

While money does come into play for both sides, the disagreement centers on a contract provision dealing with seniority and layoff language. It was part of the new two-year contract unilaterally approved a week ago by the Vancouver school board after a one-year contract extension expired.

Under the new contract, “There is no seniority protection,” said Sue Prindle, who is a co-president of the VAESP along with Nancy Schreiber.

The VAESP leaders also disagree with the new recall provisions. That governs how an employee who has been laid off would transfer to a new position and bump a person with less seniority.

And eventually, it does come down to finances.

“Hours and days is money,” Prindle said. “We say seniority has to mean something.”

The district sees it as a matter of flexibility, Hallead said.

“If the least senior person was a clerk, we wouldn’t want to eliminate an entire position and leave a school without a front-office clerk,” Hallead said. “We would want the flexibility to cut minutes or hours from clerks across the district to balance the load.”

It’s an approach Hallead called “educationally sound and financially prudent,” particularly when state revenue forecasts indicate even more budget cuts.

The two sides met for almost three hours Monday without settling their differences.

The VAESP offered up some payroll cuts that would help the district address a $145,000 shortfall in that area of staffing. Prindle said their proposals included two unpaid furlough days for each employee; or cutting one hour from the Friday work schedule.

The district’s lack of interest in those proposals Monday indicate to her that, “It’s not about money; it’s about control,” Prindle said.

“While we’re willing to have that conversation around $145,000,” Hallead said, the district needs to address what she called the larger issues of layoffs and recalls.

Meanwhile, the relationship between the district and its teachers look much smoother.

“We have reached a tentative agreement with the VEA,” Hallead said. “They are submitting it to their membership for ratification. There is no reason to believe it won’t pass.”

Courtney Hoover, VEA president, concurred.

“Our executive board moved to approve our contract,” Hoover said. She characterized it as “acceptable.”