The Vancouver Public Schools Board of Directors endorsed a handful of changes to the district’s 2021-2024 contract with the Vancouver Education Association in its meeting Tuesday night.
At their core, the changes provide more training and clarity on student disciplinary measures, increased protections on teachers’ time and availability during the day while placing more responsibility on the district to address staffing concerns without asking teachers to sacrifice planning time to cover for others.
The approval concludes the 2021-2022 interim bargaining session between the district and the union, which happens yearly to discuss nonmonetary changes the union — which represents hundreds of classroom teachers and certificated staff in the district — asks of district leadership between full bargaining sessions. Interim sessions typically concern smaller, incremental changes without significant monetary impact.
“We received member feedback that encroachment on educator time was exacerbated by COVID-19 closures and the transition back to fully in person, the demands on educator time during contract time are ever-increasing,” said Kari Van Nostran, the union’s president. “Even just (the ability) to accomplish the bare minimum of our work is becoming ever more challenging. There was an urge to secure greater time flexibility for our educators.”
Per article 10.24 — perhaps the biggest change in the contract — the district and union will work together to establish clear discipline protocol for elementary, middle and high school students to be distributed throughout each school building. Structure surrounding approaches to disciplinary action, Van Nostran said, has been cloudy and inconsistent in recent years.
Articles 10.5 and 10.6 in the contract, for example, require administrators to ensure that staff have weekly Wednesday meetings with administrators that don’t exceed the full workday and that principals can’t preempt a teacher’s planning period to cover for another staff member in excess of twice per given workweek.
2023 session to begin soon
Union membership finally ratified the interim agreement on Feb. 27, a date that Van Nostran said came later than she had hoped.
“There’s a sense of urgency, but in order for us to do this right, it took us more time than we wanted,” Van Nostran said. “So in the meantime, I’m hoping we can collaborate around individual situations.”
The union and the district will soon begin the interim bargaining session for the 2022-23 year on April 18. There, Van Nostran said, the union will again assess its members’ needs, but will likely focus on further seeking ways to relieve educators’ busy schedules. These conversations in interim sessions will set a tone for the full bargaining opening next spring, in which the union will be able to request larger changes that can be addressed with corresponding funding shifts.
“What was prudent, as we await the (2024 bargaining session), was we’ve got to get time protected for educators and we need structure at each level when it comes to supporting and addressing issues pertaining to student discipline and safety,” Van Nostran said. “The interim bargaining was intended to ‘open the door’ to these issues as priorities.”
Though a step in the right direction toward alleviating stress that’s built up since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, Van Nostran said there’s much more work to be done.
“I believe the district heard our concerns, I don’t believe we have sufficiently protected educator time and I look forward to greater district cooperation,” she said.
The full contract, with most recent revisions made underlined in red, is available online at https://tinyurl.com/3xk8rmpz.
Updates on union priorities in the upcoming 2022-2023 interim bargaining session will be shared in the coming weeks in the newsletter section of the VEA’s website here: https://vancouverea.org/newsletters/.