The student news site of Western Albemarle High School - Crozet, VA

The Western Hemisphere

The student news site of Western Albemarle High School - Crozet, VA

The Western Hemisphere

The student news site of Western Albemarle High School - Crozet, VA

The Western Hemisphere

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Collective Bargaining: The agreement that could alter ACPS employee relations

With+the+School+Board%E2%80%99s+exercise+of+emergency+powers%2C+collective+bargaining+barriers%2C+such+as+the+verification+of+employee+authorization+cards%2C+have+slowed+the+negotiation+process.
Credit: Annabelle Mackey
With the School Board’s exercise of emergency powers, collective bargaining barriers, such as the verification of employee authorization cards, have slowed the negotiation process.

 Collective bargaining, or the process in which unions negotiate contracts with employers, has stirred up controversy with the on and off negotiations between teacher’s union Albemarle Education Association (AEA) and the ACPS School Board. Tensions first arose in May 2021 when Virginia House Bill 582, a state law that legalized collective bargaining in the public sector, took effect. However, with the AEA’s return to the negotiating table in October following a several week suspension of collective bargaining talks, there seems to be productive discussions in efforts to provide school employees with more county support.

Following Charlottesville City Schools’ approval of a collective bargaining agreement, ACPS has faced pressures to pass a resolution due to the districts’ close proximity and employees’ abilities to transfer school districts. 

In the words of Vernon Liechti, President of the AEA, “If I had a choice, and I was a new hire, and I got offers at both places and I knew what was going to give me the ability to negotiate my contract and what was not, I’d kind of know what I would go through [at ACPS] even if they passed the resolution tomorrow… I’d go for the one that I felt was better, that was stronger, and that gave more protections for the workers.”

While negotiations fueled following Charlottesville City Schools’ policy changes, they initially sparked in the spring of 2022 when the AEA submitted a draft resolution to ACPS. 

“We submitted a resolution for collective bargaining back in the spring of 2022,” said Liechti, “Later in the spring, they voted to not adopt a resolution for bargaining at that time. We resubmitted in February of 2023, and instead of voting to adopt or not adopt that resolution, they instead voted to authorize the superintendent to draft a resolution for collective bargaining. Since that vote, the superintendent worked with the school board attorney and outside counsel to formulate a draft resolution, but as part of that process, they asked that the AEA have discussions with the school board members about that draft resolution and basically what we think about it…So we may still haven’t come up with a solid resolution yet, but we are still working with the school board on developing that process.”

During this process, the AEA and ACPS have butted heads, especially over the School Board’s use of emergency powers. ACPS required that in order to elect a bargaining representative to carry out negotiations, there must be a supermajority of 66% of school employees. Despite negotiation barriers and the generally slow negotiation process, Phil Giaramita, former ACPS Strategic Communications Officer, has expressed his optimism to hopefully reach an agreement that strengthens employee and county relations in 2024.

“I think the key thing that you really are looking for in a collective bargaining agreement is a healthy relationship. A stronger relationship and teamwork between management, which is in this case, the school board and the workforce, and the employees,” said Giaramita.

This idea of building a stronger relationship between teachers and county office has been expressed by multiple WAHS employees who state that the disconnect between ACPS management and the schools has posed a detriment to their careers.  

“I’m interested in collective bargaining because I have worked at WAHS for 30 years. And within those 30 years, I have seen the same feeling all along: that things are okay at the school because we know each other, we support each other. But with downtown there’s always been a feeling that they don’t understand us. They don’t listen to us. So for 30 years, we have had this feeling of lack of respect, lack of listening. And so that tells me that it’s not possible that we’ve always had terrible leadership. It tells me that it’s the system that’s not designed to allow for good listening,” said Caroline Bertrand, WAHS Career Specialist and Representative for the AEA.

Bertrand went on to mention in email communication that school employees do not feel listened to by downtown because initiatives are not aligned.

“One reason we keep feeling like downtown doesn’t listen to the staff in the schools is because of misaligned incentives: at the school level, it takes all our energy to manage the day to day. When you work downtown, the way to get noticed is not to do a good job of helping with the day to day, it’s to have a new initiative attached to your name. As a result, there is a constant flow of new initiatives coming from downtown,” she said.

Claudia Bendick, WAHS Registrar and former English Department Chair, decided to transition from a decades-long teaching career to an administrative position because of the work overload and lack of support.

When describing her situation she said that, “There really was no support. We’re very fortunate in that our administration is made up of teachers who loved teaching and who remembered what it was like to teach. And their close work with teachers and with students made them very sensitive to that. They understood the pressures that we were under and they understood how it felt to be caught in the middle of what downtown is expecting versus what my classroom needs, and they tried to help us navigate that as much as they could. But ultimately, it was the county that was making the decisions and the policies, and they were answering to them, as well.”

So, how exactly should misaligned incentives and communication be addressed in a collective bargaining agreement? It’s simple. According to Bendick, the most effective way for teachers’ voices to be heard is through in-person communication.

“Not appointing committees to speak on their behalf and not sending out a survey to ask them what they think. That all feels very closed and distant and doesn’t tell me that you really want to hear,” Bendick said. “I prefer sitting and talking. I did that with my students. If a student came to me and said ‘I have a problem with this,’ we sat down together and talked about it. I didn’t send them a survey. I didn’t ask somebody to speak on their behalf. I said, ‘talk to me, what is going on?’ And in a very nonjudgmental way.” 

 

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About the Contributor
Annabelle Mackey, Assistant Editor
Annabelle is a sophomore in her second year in Journalism, where she serves as News Editor. Regarding school activities, Annabelle is involved in Model UN, We the People, and the United Students Coalition at WAHS. She is also a member of the WAHS Marching, Symphonic, and Jazz Bands. Outside of school, she can be found listening to music, playing trumpet, or keeping up with the news.
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