As a standoff between the Petaluma teachers’ union and the Petaluma City Schools district over pay raises and other contract changes drags into its third month, teachers are teaming up with parents to call for the district to resume negotiations on the terms they have requested.
In advance of a school board meeting Tuesday night, the Petaluma Federation of Teachers has planned a press conference where they plan to ask district administrators to return to the negotiating table and grant a union request to allow any of their members to sit in on the contract talks. Those planning to speak before the 6 p.m. board meeting in support of the Petaluma Federation of Teachers include the union’s chief negotiator, two concerned parents and Lisa Maldonado, executive director of the North Bay Labor Council.
Meanwhile, School Board President Troy Sanderson and Superintendent Steve Bolman maintain that they also want to resume negotiations as soon as possible and have been trying to do so since this summer.
“The district is very interested in getting back to negotiating table and resolving this so we can get 100 percent of our focus back on educating children,” Sanderson said.
Teachers and their allies plan to raise broader concerns about what they perceive as a lack of transparency and communication on the part of the district and the school board.
“They keep saying this is in the teachers’ court,” said Carrie Caudle, a teacher and chair of the union’s political education committee. “We’ve offered to meet, too. We’re ready. But we maintain we have a right to have observers present.”
Jackie Lebihan says she is one of a growing number of concerned parents. She recently started a petition on the website change.org asking the board to “deal openly and fairly with our teachers” by having district administrators return to the bargaining table. The petition also asks the school board to make greater efforts to gather input from teachers and parents by visiting schools on a daily basis and holding events specifically designed to gather feedback.
The petition, started Oct. 8, had 367 signatures early Monday evening.
“I’m concerned that there’s been a general lack of priority placed around our teachers,” she said.
Sanderson and Bolman responded to the concerns raised about the district’s responsiveness by saying the format of board meetings restricts them from engaging commentators in conversation during the meetings. Bolman added that he has replied by email to such concerns following the meeting.
He said he maintains an open-door policy where anyone can visit him. In addition, he said, he holds monthly meetings with parent and teacher representatives from each school campus.
Sanderson said, “We attempt to do those things they have asked for (in the petition). Could anybody do a better job? Always.” But, he went on, “I think members of the board work hard to get out, get in touch with parents, students and teachers whenever opportunities arise.”
In regard to negotiations, Sanderson said, the board’s role is to direct district staff how to proceed, not directly engage in talks. For that reason, he said, the types of conversations he can have with union members about their contracts is limited.
But, he said, the board has continually directed the district to return to the bargaining table — if teachers agree to the limits on who can be present.