The Payson school board this week revived its “meet and confer” system intended to improve communications between the district’s administration and teachers.
The vote came in the wake of strained relationships between teachers and the district, culminating in an outcry against a board proposal to limit payments for unused sick time for longtime employees who get laid off or retire.
The board authorized Superintendent Casey O’Brien to use his current advisory council to improve communications with district employees, especially when it comes to things like pay, benefits and working conditions.
“We had some problems with this a number of years back,” said O’Brien. “I think this structure will be a positive process.”
The new policy allows for discussions of “salaries, benefits and other topics as deemed appropriate, recommended by joint committees formed for such purpose.” The committees would operate through meetings involving the existing Superintendent’s Advisory Committee (SAC) members, Superintendent O’Brien and the district’s assistant superintendent for business services.
Currently, each school appoints a representative to SAC, often through an appointment by the school principal. Members of that committee played a key role in developing a teacher compromise proposal on the district’s sick leave payout policy, which some board members want to drastically reduce.
O’Brien’s plan to shift back to the informal “meet and confer” approach came up even before the recent flap about the plan to cap payouts for unused sick time. However, the employee reaction and the development of a compromise proposal by the teachers to cap sick leave payouts at 100 days for new employees and 150 days for current employees illustrated the potential benefit of a more organized conversation with employees.
Now, O’Brien wants to use SAC to gather information from the school site representatives and perhaps also from subcommittees, which would consider different issues and report to SAC.
However, the policy would not give SAC or any subcommittees any right to negotiate contracts or terms of employment.
The policy adopted unanimously by the school board on Monday states “nothing in the procedures shall be construed as an abrogation or delegation of the legal powers, responsibilities and duties of the Governing Board. It shall be the policy of the Board to encourage and promote meeting and conferring in good faith and in a manner that promotes mutual trust and understanding.”