Flagg: TPS Fact Finder report short on solutionsWritten by Steven Flagg | | email@example.com
The recent agreement between the Toledo Federation of Teachers (TFT) and the Toledo Public Schools (TPS) as documented in the Fact Finder’s report is probably the best that could be expected given the fact-finding process, the financial condition of TPS, the current policies and practices, and the adversarial and sometimes myopic stance of the TFT toward proposals to improve student outcomes.
Thirty years of the Toledo Board of Education ceding control of the public education system to the TFT through dilution of management prerogatives is not something that can be reversed overnight. Still one has to wonder why the TFT and others such as the Toledo Association of Administrative Personnel continue to resist the kind of reforms needed to improve accountability and spur advances in student outcome.
TPS leadership, local leaders, the press and others all seem to be trumpeting the success of the process when the real issues on the table that would improve student outcomes were brushed aside by the fact finder in reaching his conclusions. It appears that the major objective of public education — providing educational opportunities and instruction so that all students can reach their potential — was not a major factor in the process.
TPS leadership staked out some tough and apparently unrealistic positions at the start of negotiations. TFT leadership was equally unrealistic in its efforts to maintain the status quo even though the financial situation facing TPS would have necessitated massive layoffs in order to maintain existing levels of compensation and benefits. Initial negotiating positions always seem to be established at polar extremes where each subsequent counteroffer is little more than a retreat from the opening position and each party digs in with hopes of extracting greater concessions with the next counteroffer.
It is very difficult for TPS leadership to claim much of a victory when it retreated so far from its initial position as publicly disclosed by the TFT. And none of the major TPS proposals, such as seniority and pay for performance — which has great promise for improving student outcomes — were supported by the fact finder.
TFT leadership recommended approval of the fact finder’s conclusions despite major financial concessions. However, it did maintain contract language that will threaten financial stability and inhibit needed reforms in the future.
Neither side believed its opening position was tenable, but both sides claim victory and proclaim their satisfaction. Negotiating by starting with untenable positions on both sides only exacerbates the mistrust between TPS administration and union leadership and leads to more of the same in the future.
The conclusions in the final report and lack of action on key operational changes should be disturbing to the taxpaying public.
A discussion by the fact finder about the need for a levy based upon the information provided and the limited number of issues addressed would seem inappropriate and appears based upon a narrow interpretation of the issues provided by the two negotiating parties. The fact finder does not have the background, tools or information to determine how best to deploy available assets to meet the mission of TPS, not to mention their efficacious use. Are better ways of doing business resulting in cost savings less attractive than increased taxation to fund school operations?
Major changes in operational policies such as the ability to deploy teachers as best needed by the students and performance evaluations including merit pay, were dismissed as too much for the employees to swallow. The fact finder implies that the only way to win such concessions is to “bribe” employees with fatter paychecks. In truth, merit pay was the only way that teachers and other employees were going to see increased compensation during the term of the contracts.
Both sides played their hands from the traditional zero-sum game approach and the fact finder ignored issues that had the greatest opportunity to improve student outcomes. And through it all the public is left to pay the bill, while the critical effort of educating our children languishes.
The ineffectual results as documented in the fact finder’s report provide ample reasons why SB-5 was proposed, passed and will be before the voters in a statewide referendum this fall.
Steven Flagg is a member of the Urban Coalition.