Meet and Consult, Part I

I listened on Monday to some of the Maine Legislature’s Joint Committee on Education and Cultural Affairs hearing on LD 391: An Act Concerning Models for Teacher and Principal Evaluations.

At one point, Roger Shaw of SAD #42 in Mars Hill, speaking in favor of the bill on behalf of the Maine School Superintendents’ Association, said that it would be important for local Associations and school boards to “meet and consult” over the issue of teacher evaluations should the bill pass.

The purpose of this post is not to comment on the relative merits of LD 391, but rather to explain what the process to which Mr. Shaw referred is all about.

Going back, as we often do, to the statute that permits Maine teachers to negotiate with their employers, 26 MRSA §965, we see the phrase “meet and consult” in part C:

1. Negotiations.  It is the obligation of the public employer and the bargaining agent to bargain collectively. “Collective bargaining” means, for the purposes of this chapter, their mutual obligation:

C. To confer and negotiate in good faith with respect to wages, hours, working conditions and contract grievance arbitration, except that by such obligation neither party may be compelled to agree to a proposal or be required to make a concession and except that public employers of teachers shall meet and consult but not negotiate with respect to educational policies; for the purpose of this paragraph, educational policies may not include wages, hours, working conditions or contract grievance arbitration;

OK, so the obvious question is: what does it mean to “meet and consult but not negotiate”?

First, remember that anything that is negotiated between the parties to a collective bargaining agreement is binding on the parties. So, if teachers and school systems agree on a salary scale, for example, and the school system refuses to pay those amounts, the employees can go to an arbitrator and ask that person to order the school system to do what it agreed to do.  If the school system refuses to abide by the arbitrator’s decision, the matter can be pressed in court.

Since the subsection above says that public employers of teachers many not negotiate about educational policies, the clear implication is that the “meet and consult” (M&C) process is not binding on the parties.

If the process isn’t binding, what good is it? Well, the Maine Labor Relations Board took a look at that question back in 1982 with a case out of the Southern Aroostook Community School District (CSD 9) in Dyer Brook/Island Falls.

The facts of the case are complicated, but the part of the decision that explains the meet and consult process is relatively brief and – wonder of wonders! – concise:

The purpose of the meet and consult obligation is to ensure that school committees consider their employees’ comments and concerns before implementing or changing educational policy.  The duty to meet and consult thus is a mechanism  for insuring employee input in non-negotiable policy areas, designed to further the Act’s purpose of improving the relationship between school committees and their employees.  Several elements are necessary to carry out the purpose of the meet and consult obligation:

1.  Notice that a change in educational policy is planned must be given to the bargaining agent, so that it can timely invoke the meet and consult process if employees wish to comment on the changes;

2.  Pertinent information about the planned change must be provided so that the bargaining agent and employees can understand the change and make constructive comments about it.

3.   Actual meeting and consulting at reasonable times and places about the planned change must occur upon receipt of a ten day notice or other request to meet and consult by the bargaining agent.  A school committee is obligated to come to meet and consult sessions with an open mind, to discuss the planned change openly and honestly, and to listen to the employees’ suggestions and concerns.

4.  Mature consideration must be given to the employees’ input before the change is implemented, and if any of the employees’ comments or concerns are meritorious, the school committee must decide in good faith whether they can be accommodated.

Once a school committee has satisfied these elements of the duty to meet and consult, it is free to implement or change the educational policy matter.

Before we go on to Part II of this discussion, please consider the following scenario:

A newly-hired elementary school (300 kids, 15 classroom teachers and 5 others) principal wants to institute a different math/science curriculum.  She talks it over with the superintendent who says, “Makes sense to me; go ahead and take a look at options.” Over coffee a few days later, she mentions her idea to two teachers.  She then orders a complete set of new textbooks with related audiovisuals, computer programs and more for all the classrooms based on her experiences with it at her previous school.  The materials arrive in early June and she proudly announces at the final staff meeting of the year, “You’re going to love this system; we’ll all need to get on board with the new curriculum next year.  It will take some time to get used to it, but we’ll work together to iron out any bugs.”

Questions:

  1. Was the adopting this curriculum a matter of educational policy?
  2. If so, were the M&C processes laid out in Southern Aroostook followed?

Next time: M&C – how it really works.

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Filed under Collective Bargaining, Education in Maine

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